FAA Raises Venezuela's Airline Security Classification

United States authorities on Friday raised Venezuela's civil aviation security classification to Category 1, a Federal Aviation Administration official announced.

The decision avoids possible retaliation by Caracas, which had threatened to cut U.S. airline flights to the Caribbean nation.

Until now Venezuela was rated by the FAA as Category 2, a classification that bans airlines from countries so designated from flying into the United States or extending their routes.

One official said that the decision came after a series of consultations between the State Department and Venezuelan authorities, which ended with a visit by an FAA team to Caracas to check out Venezuela's commercial aircraft and evaluate airline security procedures.

Those meetings avoided Venezuela putting into effect on March 30 its plan to restrict U.S. flights as a reprisal against a similar restriction that Washington has applied to Venezuelan airlines since 1995.

The measure of limiting the number of U.S. flights to Venezuela that was twice postponed and was finally announced to begin on April 25 was subject to the results of the bilateral negotiations, Venezuela's Infrastructure Minister Ramon Carrizales said last month.

Venezuela has been ranked as Category 2 since 1995, and as a result its airlines have had to lease airplanes and crews from other companies in order to fly to the United States.

Caracas said that it complies with all the security regulations required by the United States and has invested millions of dollars to modernize its radar and security equipment and to train its pilots.

The Venezuelan Airlines Association has called it "a well-known fact" that since 1995 "Venezuela has progressed" in the aviation sector "up to the point of reaching positions of leadership in legal regulatory codes, airline safety, and in the training and professionalization of aviation officials.

The flight ban threat was yet another point of friction for the "revolutionary" Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chavez and Washington.