2006-02-25 01:06:31 UTC
Venezuela plans to prohibit Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines
from flying into this South American nation and is restricting flights
by a third major U.S. carrier, American Airlines, the head of the
nation's federal aviation agency said.
Francisco Paz, president of the National Aviation Institute, said late
Thursday the action was taken because the U.S. had placed a similar
ban on some Venezuelan carriers serving routes to the United States 10
years ago due to safety violations. Venezuela said the U.S. has failed
to recognize improvements since then.
"We have exhausted all avenues with the U.S. aeronautical authority,"
the institute said in a statement. "We have been forced to reduce the
frequency of flights of U.S. airline companies from the U.S."
The ban will take effect on March 1, Paz told local Globovision
In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the decision
was unjustified and violated a 1953 aviation agreement between the
United States and Venezuela. He said the U.S. urged Venezuela to
respect the agreement.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been tense recently,
with U.S. officials criticizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who
has threatened to cut off oil exports to the U.S.
Roberto Pulido, president of the Venezuelan Association of Airlines,
said the three U.S. carriers were told of the ban on Thursday and were
meeting Friday with Venezuelan aviation officials.
"The closing or restriction of operations by these airlines will ...
dramatically affect tourism and business," the association said in a
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines operates a daily route from Atlanta to
Venezuela. Continental Airlines has a daily round trip to Caracas from
Houston and a weekly round trip to Caracas from Newark, N.J.
"We are very disappointed by this unilateral action by the Venezuelan
government," said Gina Laughlin, a spokeswoman for Delta.
Continental is negotiating with Venezuelan authorities "to try to
resolve the situation immediately and amicably," the carrier said
"The outcome, however, is not within Continental's control," it said.
American Airlines operates up to seven flights a day to Venezuela,
mostly from Miami but also from Dallas-Fort Worth, New York and San
Juan, Puerto Rico. Venezuela is threatening to eliminate all but three
daily flights between Miami and Caracas, American officials said.
American Airlines spokesman Dan Elwell said the airline was surprised
by the announcement.
"American Airlines had no warning of this announcement at all," Elwell
FedEx Corp. spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said the shipping company has
five flights a week to Venezuela and may also be affected by the ban.
The FAA restricted Venezuelan flights to the U.S. in 1996 because it
said the country didn't meet international safety standards.
Venezuelan officials say they have improved standards since then.
AMR shares fell 64 cents, or 2.5 percent, to close at $25.23 on the
New York Stock Exchange, while Continental shares lost 7 cents to
close at $23.24. Delta is operating under bankruptcy court protection.