Venezuela Willing to Back Off U.S. Airline Ban Temporarily

Venezuela said Monday it was willing to temporarily back off a March 30 ban on U.S. airlines as aviation officials discuss Caracas' demands that American authorities drop safety-based restrictions against its carriers.

A delegation from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration arrived Sunday in the hopes of reaching an agreement with Venezuelan officials to avert a potential airline crisis if Venezuela follows through on its threat to block most flights by U.S. carriers.

"Our government has shown and maintains its disposition to temporarily suspend the measure depending on the climate of the talks," said Infrastructure Minister Ramon Carrizalez.

Carrizalez said the government had expressed its willingness to hold off on the ban in response to the FAA's "gesture of good faith" to come to Venezuela and discuss the matter.

The FAA delegation began talks with Venezuela's National Aviation Institute, or INAC, Monday afternoon, officials said.

Venezuela is demanding the FAA lift safety restrictions in place since 1995 that prevent Venezuelan airlines from flying to the United States using their own planes or from starting new services.

The U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization recognized after a visit to Venezuela last year that the country has boosted supervision of aircraft operations, better trained personnel and upgraded the airworthiness of aircraft to improve the regulation of its aviation industry.

According to Carrizalez, a 2004 audit by the organization found that Venezuela met 88 percent of the body's recommended international aviation safety standards, up from 39 percent in 1999.

Venezuela is hoping those advances will be recognized and that the FAA will upgrade its own ranking of Venezuela from category 2 to category 1.

Venezuela's proposed ban would prohibit all flights by Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. and Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., and restrict most flights by Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp.'s American Airlines.

U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield warned earlier this month that Venezuelan carriers would be banned from flying to the United States if Venezuela prohibited flights by U.S. airlines. Two Venezuelan airlines operate flights to the U.S. by leasing planes from American companies.

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