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Temporary Reprieve for U.S. Carriers by Venezuela

April 3, 2006 By: Susan Young Travel Agent

An international aviation safety dispute that is as much a political football as a true focus on airline safety is in a "holding pattern." Venezuela has postponed until April 25 its plan to restrict flights by US airlines. After additional holding talks with US officials, Venezuela's Infrastructure Ministry said the INAC aviation authority suspended the restrictions on US carriers until late April to await the results of a safety audit carried out by the US Federal Aviation Administration this week. Venezuela threatened earlier this year it would curtail flights by American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines starting last week, if the FAA did not lift decade-old restrictions on Venezuelan airlines flying to US airports. Some analysts say the spat is all about terrorism and oil. Tensions have been high between the left-wing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the Bush Administration, and it doesn't help that the United States receives about 15 percent of its energy imports from Venezuela. Venezuela claims it has improved aviation safety standards since the FAA in 1995, a move that imposed restrictions on Venezuelan airline services, first downgraded it. Currently, Venezuelan carriers operate under "FAA category two status," meaning they must lease aircraft and crew from a category one country to fly to US airports and they also cannot expand flight services. Venezuelan airlines back the ban for U.S. carriers as leverage to force the U.S. to lift restrictions.

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