CARACAS, Venezuela–President Nicolas Maduro warned airlines not to limit flights in and out of Venezuela, days after Avianca reported was reducing flights to Caracas amid industry complaints of billions of dollars in unpaid debts. “Airlines have no excuse to reduce their flights to Venezuela”, Maduro said during a press conference. “If airlines reduce flights, I will take severe measures.” Airlines have struggled to obtain dollars in exchange for the Bolivar currency as a result of long-running delays in Venezuela’s 11-year-old currency control system. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week said that airlines are owed USD $3.7 billion and that some are considering halting service to Venezuela. “If an airline leaves the country, it’s not coming back while we are in government”, Maduro said, casting the airlines’ complaints as part of a wider economic war against his socialist government by political foes and businesses. Maduro also said, however, that his government would pay debts to the airline industry. Avianca Holdings, operator of Colombia’s biggest airline, on Thursday told travel agents it will cut flights between the countries’ capitals to one day from three as of March 20th. Avianca will suspend flights between Caracas and San Jose, Costa Rica, as part of an effort “to match supply to market needs” and reduce the number of seats available between Caracas and Lima. The company’s Chief Executive said that currency controls hade made it difficul to bring revenue worrth about USD$300 million out of Venezuela. German airline Lufthansa said this month its 2013 financial results took a double-digit million euro hit from payment issues in Venezuela. Maduro said that various airlines around the world were ready to step in and cover any unfilled routes. “They’re asking permission to cover flights to Colombia, Panama, Central and South America”, he said without giving more details. Venezuelan state-run air carrier CONVIASA is expected to take over several routes like the Caracas-San Jose run.
MANAGUA,Nicaragua–The Venezuelan flag carrier CONVIASA (Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronauticas y Servicios Aereos) started one weekly flight connecting Caracas with the Nicaraguan capital. The second Central American city after CONVIASA started daily flights to Panama City. The airline is going through expansion plans that include new Brazilian Embraer E-190s. In addition to Managua and Panama City the flag carrier connects Caracas with Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dominica, Grenada, Havana, Cuba; Madrid, Spain and Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Future cities include Georgetown, Guyana; Lima, Peru; Manaus and Sao Paulo in Brazil; Mexico City; Paramaribo,Suriname; San Jose, Costa Rica; San Salvador, El Salvador; and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It also has been rumored CONVIASA will try to start non-stop flights to Miami, Florida or in any case via Managua. The airline has a fleet of one Airbus A-340-200, two Boeing 737-300, four Bombardier CRJ700 and six Embraer E-190s.