| SANTIAGO, March 26
SANTIAGO, March 26 The group that represents the
international airline industry said on Wednesday that top
Venezuelan government officials have not responded to its
requests for talks on $3.8 billion in unpaid debt resulting from
the country's currency controls.
Venezuela requires airlines to bill tickets sold to the
country's residents in local bolivar currency but has not
approved requests to repatriate the resulting revenue, the
International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.
"We as IATA haven't succeeded in engaging the senior levels
of government in any discussions," IATA Chief Executive Tony
Tyler said during the FIDAE airshow in Santiago. "We'd be very
keen to do that. At any time, I would go for a meeting with the
president or the senior ministers to find a solution to the
Tyler said that within the past year, 11 airlines that have
been flying to Venezuela have reduced their operations by
between 15 and 78 percent.
Individual airlines have held meetings with government
officials, but without results, he said. Major airlines flying
to Venezuela include American Airlines, Lufthansa
, Delta, Avianca and Copa.
Air Canada suspended its operations this month,
citing security concerns related to street protests, and
Venezuela immediately cut ties to the airline.
"I need hardly remind anyone here that this is not the
government's money, it is money the airlines earned by providing
air transportation to the citizens of Venezuela," Tyler said.
The currency control system, created in 2003 by late
socialist leader Hugo Chavez, requires companies to seek
approval from a state currency board to purchase hard currency.
Local companies routinely buy dollars on the illegal black
market, but foreign companies generally avoid doing so because
of the potential legal repercussions.
Tyler said this month the government had promised to pay
debts dating back to 2012.
"It is crucial the government now take the next step and
release the airlines' money, and that it do so at fair exchange
rates," he said. "Airlines can't be expected to keep serving a
market if they can't get paid."
Venezuela launched a new foreign exchange platform this week
with a rate of around 52 bolivars per dollar, which could open a
legal avenue for companies to send money back to headquarters.
But using this system would create heavy losses for airlines
that have been billing tickets at the official rate that was 4.3
bolivars per dollar in 2012 and 6.3 for most of 2013.
President Nicolas Maduro has promised to ensure the airlines
get paid, but has threatened to kick out any that halt services
as a result of payment disputes.
(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne; and