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Yankee Tourist Go Home?

By Tomas Sancio | Venezuelan Politics

31.05.05 | If there is an example of the Venezuelan government shooting itself in the foot, it's the case of the 28 charter planes from Puerto Rico that were not allowed by the National Institute of Civil Aviation (INAC) to land in Margarita. These American Eagle planes were to bring a total of 1400 tourists to the island (roughly 50 per plane) from May 26th through August of this year.

According to reports from the El Nacional newspaper from Sunday and Monday, the reason behind the INAC's prohibition is that in 1996, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Venezuela in 1996 and disallowed Venezuelan airlines to visit that country. The INAC responded by not allowing any new USA airline to land in a Venezuelan airport. Nine years later, Venezuela is still Cat 2 and it seems like only Aeropostal will be able to make Cat 1 by being certified ISO9001 through its own effort.

So, let's see if we get the story straight:

  • Venezuela fails to meet FAA requirements in 1996 and is downgraded.

  • The FAA forbids Venezuelan airlines from landing in the USA so airlines from that country in effect monopolize the routes from Venezuela to the USA.

  • In nine years and through two governments, Venezuela doesn't do anything about it and just forbids "any new airline" from landing in Venezuela, which amounts to a hand slap, at best.

  • "Margarita Service Air", a local business tries to bring 1400 foreign tourists to Margarita through Puerto Rico* and it is prohibited by the Venezuelan government, which is coincidentially now "anti-imperialist".

Although the amount of tourists is not overwhelming, Margarita (and the rest of the country) needs all the foreign income it can get. It would be very depressing to be an "empanada" vendor in Margarita (anybody remember the "empanada route"?) and find out that your potential customers are being held back by bureaucrats that want to mark their territory by blocking tiny aircraft while allowing the huge jets to go through.

Solutions? We can start with the obvious. First, have the INAC do its homework and see what needs to be done to meet the FAA requirements. Then, if the requirements are really unreasonable (something hard to believe considering that other Latin American countries meet them), do the necessary lobbying. Tourism is an economical activity we cannot afford to neglect.

*The alternative of connecting in Caracas with Margarita as the final destination is not practical as it adds roughly $150-200 to the ticket, besides the time spent in the Maiquetía airport.

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