Friday, April 21, 2006

Playing hardball works 

A month or so ago the Venezuelan opposition, who in their free time like to pond hop over to Miami, were in a tizzy about the Venezuelan government threatening to ban U.S. airlines from flying to Venezuela.

Why was Venezuela threatening to do that? The problem dates back to more than 10 years ago when the Venezuelan civil aviation system had deteriorated to such an extent (under the Fourth Republic please note) that the U.S. banned Venezuelan airlines from flying into the U.S. with Venezuelan aircraft and crew. If a Venezuelan airline wanted to fly to Miami they had to rent an aircraft and crew from a country with a higher level of certification, such as Colombia or the U.S. itself, to do the actual flying. This is expensive and put Venezuelan airlines at a serious disadvantage. Over 90% of the market for flights between the U.S. and Venezuela is held by U.S. airlines.

Over the past number of years Venezuela has made significant improvements in its civil aviation standards (under Chavez, thank you very much) and thought it merited being upgraded to Category I which would enable Venezuelan airlines to resume flying with their own planes and crews to the U.S.

However, the U.S. didn't change Venezuela's category. So Venezuela decided to force the issue by saying that if the U.S. didn't review Venezuela's system and consider upgrading it to Category I it would ban most flights by U.S. carriers to Venezuela. The opposition, in typical kneejerk fashion, said it was an outrage that Venezuela was doing this, how dare they challenge the U.S. on something like this, this is just typical Chavez bluster, now we won't have anyway to fly in and out of the country, etc, etc, etc.

Well, look what happened today:

U.S. Raises Venezuela's Safety Ranking

CARACAS, Venezuela — U.S. aviation authorities upgraded Venezuela's safety ranking on Friday, averting a ban that would have blocked most U.S. airlines from flying to the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas said in a statement that the "Federal Aviation Administration is raising the safety rating of Venezuela to Category 1."

The Venezuelan government had protested its category 2 ranking, which prohibited Venezuelan airlines from flying their own planes to the U.S. or from launching new services such as expansions in routes.

The restrictions, in place since 1995, forced Venezuelan airlines to rent planes for flights to or from the United States.

Venezuela had set an April 25 deadline by which the FAA had to drop restrictions or face retaliatory measures.

Once again Chavez was right and the opposition was wrong. Anyone keeping score on how many times Chavez has been right and the opposition wrong? I lost track a long time ago.


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