CARACAS, Venezuela, May 29 (UPI) -- International air carriers said Venezuela has not paid $4 billion in ticket fees, and are stopping flights in and out of the country.
The Italian airline Alitalia says it is owed $170 million, and announced it will stop flights beginning Jun. 2, following a similar announcement in March by Air Canada.
Eleven other airlines have scaled back operations in Venezuela by 15 percent to 78 percent.
Venezuela owes $4 billion in ticket fees to 24 international carriers going back to 2009, and has not acted on its March promise to begin paying the debt, said Jason Sinclair, spokesman for the International Air Transport Assn., headquartered in Montreal, Canada.
The Venezuelan government funnels foreign currency transactions through its CADIVI agency, but a foreign currency shortage, largely caused by stalled oil sales, has prompted a suspension of payment to many foreign companies.
Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, has threatened to permanently ban airlines that eliminate or reduce the country's air travel market, but Sinclair said patience on the part of airlines is ending.
"These funds never belonged to the Venezuelan government and it is time it came up with a payment plan," Sinclair said.