Greece Welcomes Upgrade in FAA Flight Rating

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greece welcomed a decision Thursday by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to improve the country's flight-standards rating, saying it was a boost for the country's vital tourism industry.

''This is a national success accomplished after persistent and systematic effort,'' Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said.

''This decision puts our standards on par with other countries ... and will have many advantages, as far as air carriers, an increase in tourism and of course for the national economy.''

The FAA confirmed the decision and said a formal announcement would be made later Thursday.

''We have raised (Greece) from Category 2 to Category 1 in our International Aviation Safety Assessment,'' FAA spokesman Les Dorr said, speaking by telephone from Washington D.C.

Dorr said FAA inspectors visited Athens last month, but decline to elaborate on specific improvements that had been made.

The FAA lowered Greece's rating in 2000, saying the country was not following standards set by the International Civil Aviation Authority.

As a result, U.S. flights by Greek national carrier Olympic Airlines were subject to increased scrutiny.

The FAA's rating system concerns the quality of the civil aviation services of countries which provide flights to the United States and not of individual airlines. Most nations in Category 2 rating are in Africa and South America.

Greece, which failed to secure an improved rating before the Athens Olympics last year, is keen to boost its image as a safe country, and increase tourism. Greece is spending a record euro60 million (US$72 million) in 2005 to promote itself as a year-round vacation destination.

Tourism, with vacations to Mediterranean beaches and ancient monuments, generates 18 percent of Greece's gross domestic product, according to the Tourism Ministry.

To improve the Greek flight rating, the Transport Ministry was advised by SH&E International Air Transport Consultancy, a New York-based company that works with the FAA.