Nelson Ramiz, who owned and operated Aeropostal for a turbulent decade, has sold out after a long, losing battle with Venezuela's government.

Relations between Ramiz and Venezuelan aviation agency INAC have been in a tailspin for years, with Ramiz complaining that the Chavez government clipped Aeropostal's wings through currency and fare controls. He and others also criticised the government for favouring state-owned Conviasa.

This dispute culminated in INAC blocking Aeropostal from selling tickets during the Christmas holidays and threatening to shut the airline down. In an effort to forestall this, Ramiz stepped down in January as Aeropostal's president and started entertaining proposals to sell all or part of the carrier. He has reportedly sold Aeropostal, which in recent months cut its fleet to three aircraft, to Venezuelan businessmen from Valencia and Carabobo.

The sale price is undisclosed, but it includes assumption of about $100 million in debts for jet fuel, airport fees, payroll taxes and other government charges. As part of the deal, the government has agreed to allow the buyers to refinance the unpaid fuel and airport charges, estimated at nearly $73 million.

Ramiz may have left, but Venezuela's problems have not. Juan Carlos Marquez, president of local airline industry group Ceveta, says all of Venezuela's airlines are now suffering from fare caps that have not changed, despite 20% inflation last year, since 2005. Load factors have reached 90%, he says, because tariffs are so low. As a result of the low yields and the currency constraints that inhibit fleet expansion, Marquez says "we have not had the growth in the number of airplanes we need to take care of this demand".

Source: Airline Business