* Venezuelan government described as "wilfully
* Airlines say they are owed more than $4 bln in total
* Venezuela expected to release only $486 mln
DOHA, June 3 Venezuela is being "wilfully
irresponsible" in its treatment of airlines that have more than
$4 billion of revenue trapped in the country, a leading industry
body said on Tuesday.
President Nicolas Maduro's government requires airlines to
sell tickets in the bolivar currency but has been slow to allow
them to repatriate the earnings.
The Venezuelan government said last week that it would begin
releasing $2.1 billion in hard currency to companies that have
struggled to obtain dollars as a result of the controls. The
country's top economic official said airlines would receive $486
million of the total earmarked for disbursement.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is
holding its annual meeting in Doha this week, said the proposals
"Airlines are being expected to accept a significant
discount ... plus payment would be staged over several years,"
IATA Director General Tony Tyler told the meeting of more than
200 airline executives.
"The Venezuelan government takes the top prize for wilful
Airlines including Lufthansa, Avianca
and Copa have responded by reducing the number of
flights to the country and using smaller aircraft.
Air Canada went a step further by halting
operations, citing security concerns, while Alitalia
is suspending flights over the summer months. Ticket prices have
also increased sharply as airlines try to reduce losses.
"You can't expect airlines to provide a service if they
can't get paid for it. So our call to the Venezuelan government
is to play by the rules," Tyler said.
Small airlines Tame, AeroMexico,
Aruba Airlines and Insel Air agreed to receive a single payment
of about $200 million between them to cancel debts from 2013,
the Venezuelan Airlines Association said last week. It is not
known how big a discount the payment represents.
Major airlines, however, are unwilling to agree to the
terms, Tyler said.
Lufthansa, Europe's largest airline by revenue, has said it
is owed hundreds of millions of dollars. It suspended Venezuela
ticket sales for two days last month.
(Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by David Goodman)