Venezuela says it's prepared to ban U.S. flights

Venezuela is prepared to go ahead with a ban on flights by most American airlines unless U.S. aviation authorities agree to drop safety restrictions on this country, the vice president said Thursday.

If the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration fails to upgrade its rating of Venezuelan carriers, "U.S. airlines will not fly, it's decided," Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said.

Venezuela is demanding that the FAA reverse a November 1995 decision to lower the country's airlines from category 1 to 2 because Venezuelan conditions did not comply with international air safety standards.

The measure requires Venezuelan carriers to fly aircraft and crew rented from U.S. companies or another category 1 country in order to enter U.S. airspace.

Venezuela's National Aviation Institute announced a retaliatory measure last month, prohibiting flights by most U.S. carriers starting March 1, but later delayed the ban until March 30 to allow negotiations by the airlines and U.S. authorities.

The ban will prohibit flights by Houston-based Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and reduce by 70 percent flights operated by Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines, the other major U.S. carrier serving Venezuela.

Delta operates daily flights between Caracas and Atlanta. Continental has daily flights between Caracas and Houston and weekly flights to New York.

American has daily flights from Venezuela to Puerto Rico and Miami and weekly flights to Dallas and New York.

American transported about 60,000 passengers during the 2005 end-of-year travel season, according to Venezuelan airline authorities, reports AP.


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