All eyes are on the US FAA as it agrees to review Venezuela’s status under its international air safety assessment programme. Every Latin American country that the FAA has downgraded to Category 2 has privately dreamed of doing what Venezuela threatens to do – restrict the entry of US carriers to level the playing field.

Since the FAA downgraded Venezuela in 1995, US airlines have continued to add flights and grab market share, while the US operations of Venezuelan airlines have been frozen. Aeropostal and Santa Barbara Airlines carry only 15% of all Venezuela-US traffic. American, Continental and Delta Air Lines handle the rest. Frustrated by this inequality, the Venezuelan government has banned Continental and Delta flights and cut American flights by 70%, starting from the end of March.

Both sides are pointing fingers at the other. Nelson Ramiz, Aeropostal’s chief executive, blames the FAA. Officials from ICAO said after a visit last year that Venezuela met 89% of the same safety standards that the FAA enforces, and Ramiz claims further improvements have followed.

Ramiz says the FAA has been tardy in reassessing Venezuela. Peter Dolara, American’s vice-president for Latin operations, predicts the FAA will be “pleasantly surprised” when it sees how much Venezuela has improved. His Delta counterpart, Víctor Battini, also urges a quick resolution.

The FAA says it does not reassess Category 2 countries until it is confident they can pass, and Venezuela has rebuffed its offers of personnel and assistance. The agency has asked Venezuelan officials if it can visit the country in April to conduct a reassessment. The government has not said whether it will delay its ban on US carriers to wait for the FAA’s verdict. ■

Source: Airline Business