Aeropostal's latest stand-off with the Venezuelan government could see it shut down

Venezuela's national institute of civil aviation (INAC) is considering shutting down Aeropostal, as tensions mount between the government and the country's private airlines.

For the past year private airlines have complained that they are "against the wall", according to Humberto Figueras, president of Venezuela's airline association, due to harsh government controls and support for state-owned Conviasa. Now the private aviation sector could consolidate further.

The current Aeropostal dispute started last August, when Nelson Ramiz (pictured), the airline's owner and president, decided to pull the bulk of Aeropostal's fleet out of Venezuela. He claimed ­currency controls prevented him from maintaining the fleet, and that fare controls kept Aeropostal from making a profit.

By the end of 2007 Aeropostal's fleet had shrunk from 22 to three aircraft. Some of these aircraft could eventually be operated by Ufly Airways, a new Miami-based carrier Ramiz plans to set up out of the remains of bankrupt Falcon Air Express. Ramiz envisions Ufly flying between the USA and Venezuela.

In November INAC launched a proceeding against Aeropostal, which it claimed was prompted by passenger complaints, to decide whether to shut down the airline. The agency initially planned to make its decision in January, but has since delayed it to allow Aeropostal to respond.

Towards the end of December, however, INAC put more pressure on Aeropostal by imposing a ban on ticket sales. The agency justified this based on flight delays and a labour dispute at the airline. In January the agency lifted this ban, but it deprived Aeropostal of all sales during the holiday season.

INAC's final verdict on Aeropostal is expected soon. The decision could result in more sanctions or a "suspension of commercial operations". If Aeropostal is closed down, Aserca, which last year acquired Santa Barbara Airlines, will be the only private international airline left in Venezuela. A senior Aserca manager says: "The current government clearly wants to reduce the activity of privately-owned airlines in favour of Conviasa."

The dispute started when Nelson Ramiz pulled the bulk of Aeropostal's fleet out of Venezuela

Source: Airline Business