Venezuela's Aserca Airlines will have to find another way to access the US market following the grounding of its Caribbean subsidiary, Air Aruba. Air Aruba's move has so upset Aserca that it is halting all flights to the Caribbean island nation.

Aserca has no route authority to the USA and no prospect of gaining any while Venezuela remains in Category 2 under the US Federal Aviation Administration's safety assessment programme. Yet Aruba has an open skies bilateral with the USA, which allows Air Aruba to fly anywhere in the USA and to carry US traffic beyond Aruba without limitation. Before its grounding, Air Aruba served six US cities and carried substantial sixth freedom traffic to Venezuela.

Aserca owns 10% of Air Aruba's shares outright, and Aserca's president, Simeon Garcia, holds another 60% through a Venezuelan investment. Neither Aserca nor Garcia were consulted about Air Aruba's grounding. But Aruba's government, which owns the remaining 30%, may have grounded the airline because it owed Oranjestad Air-port $2.2 million and was about to lose three of its eight jets to lease defaults.

Aruba's government then hired charters to help transport 1,200 foreign passengers stranded on the island. Aruba has asked Colombia's Avianca to add Aruba-USA flights on an emergency basis, partly because it wants to avoid exclusive reliance on US carriers.

Julian Villalba, Aserca's chief executive, complains that ceasing operations only made any liquidity problem worse. He told a Caracas newspaper: "This is another one of the great errors committed by the authorities of Aruba."

An agreement between Aserca and Aruba's government called for Aserca to park its aircraft in Aruba overnight after flights from Venezuela. Yet, Villalba says Aserca is stopping Aruba flights because its rights have not been respected.

Where Aserca goes from here is unclear. Villalba says it will seek other international routes.

Source: Airline Business