The country’s crashing and burning continues (note that Air Canada pulled out in 2014):
Venezuela was once an aviation gateway to South America. Now it’s an outcast.
Perched on a coastal plain at the very northern tip of South America, Caracas’s Simón Bolívar International Airport [website here] was once the aviation gateway to the continent.
Charles Lindbergh scouted the airport’s location in 1929, according to Venezuelan aviation lore, and by 1959, Pan Am was routing its New York-Buenos Aires flights with a stop in Caracas. By the late 1970s, Venezuela was so rich in oil wealth that Concorde jets were swooping in to whisk shoppers off to Paris.
These days, the Caracas airport is a depressing, lonely place, and Venezuelan air travel has shriveled. International carriers have about $4 billion stuck in virtually worthless Venezuelan bolivars that government banks won’t let them convert into hard currency, so they are cutting their losses and dropping Caracas flights. LATAM, the largest carrier in Latin America, took off down the runway this week and isn’t coming back.
By most accounts, Venezuela’s economy is the worst-performing in the world, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a 10 percent contraction this year. Annual inflation is running at more than 700 percent, and rioters in several cities have stormed supermarkets chanting, “We want food!”
Since 2013, when the bolivar started its steep drop, the number of passengers traveling to and from Venezuela has fallen nearly 30 percent, according the International Air Transport Association, a leading airline trade group. That is an especially large drop, according to spokesman Jason Sinclair, given that commercial air travel is rapidly increasing almost everywhere else.
“We don’t know of anywhere else in the world that has had this level of decline,” he said. “Globally, the number of air travelers is expected to double in the next 20 years, so anyplace that has no growth or is declining really stands out.”
Air Canada was one of the first to dump Venezuela, in 2014, blaming “civil unrest.” Since then, Alitalia, Aeromexico, Lufthansa and others have followed, despite threats from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that carriers who pull out won’t see a dime of the money they are owed.
American Airlines, which once offered flights from three U.S. cities, now flies from Miami only. Aerolineas Argentinas has cut its Buenos Aires service from seven flights per week to two…