Air carrier group to Venezuela: Time to pay up on ticket revenue

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has threatened to permanently exclude airlines from his nation's market if they cut off service over what they say is unpaid debt.
(Miguel Gutierrez / European Pressphoto Agency)

The group of international air carriers on Tuesday said Venezuela’s government had reneged on a promise to pay billions of dollars in ticket fees, an accusation that followed a second airline’s announcement that it would stop all flights in and out of the country.

Venezuela owes $4 billion in ticket fees to 24 air carriers, Jason Sinclair, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Assn., said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said the government has not acted on its promise in March to start paying the debt, which Sinclair said includes sales revenue owed as far back as 2009.

“We have been asking the Venezuelan government for a number of months to come up with a solution to this problem,” said Sinclair, whose association represents passenger and cargo lines worldwide.

Last week, Italy’s Alitalia airline said Venezuela owed it more than $170 million and that it would stop flights altogether after June 2. Air Canada announced a cessation of Venezuelan operations in March.


Eleven other airlines have scaled back flights by between 15% and 78% of normal operations in Venezuela, Sinclair said, because of the country’s failure to pass along ticket revenue.

Venezuela’s government channels all foreign currency transactions, including those involving domestic sales of foreign products and services, through its CADIVI agency. But a foreign currency shortage caused by stalled oil sales and the country’s increased reliance on imports for basic goods has prompted officials to suspend payments to many foreign companies.

Two of the airlines hit hardest by Venezuela’s failure to pay foreign creditors are Colombia’s Avianca, which in March cut back weekly flights to seven from 21, and Panama-based Copa Airlines. Those airlines and others have said they would only sell tickets to travelers outside Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has threatened airlines that eliminate service with permanent exclusion from Venezuela’s air travel market.


However, Sinclair said airlines’ patience is nearing an end. He “would not speculate about other airlines” and rumors about their plans to stop all flights.

“These funds have never belonged to the Venezuelan government and it is time it came up with a payment plan,” Sinclair said.

Humberto Figuera, president of Venezuela’s airline association known by its Spanish initials ALAV, said in a recent statement that the government had proposed paying 70% of what the international association says is due. The group rejected the proposal, calling it “an imposed confiscation.”

Special correspondents Kraul and Mogollon reported from Bogota, Colombia and Caracas, respectively.