International airlines are increasingly fearful about billions of dollars they say they are owed by recession-hit Venezuela, the head of the world's airline trade association said Thursday.
In Venezuela, airlines are required to sell tickets in bolivars under an arrangement in which the socialist government later converts the local currency to dollars.
But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the government has failed to reimburse airlines billions.
"The airlines are very concerned about the situation in Venezuela because they have 3.6 billion dollars of their money stuck in the country. They are not allowed to remove it," said Tony Tyler, head of the IATA.
Faced with falling prices for oil, whose export accounts for about 96 percent of the country's export revenues, Venezuelan authorities in December obtained a 20 percent reduction in their debt to airlines, some of which have scaled back or totally cut services to Venezuela.
"We are very aware of the economic problems the country is facing, which have been made worse for the oil price, and we want to propose some constructive solutions to the problem," Tyler said, speaking at a news conference in the Colombian capital Bogota.
He noted that the drop in crude oil prices doesn't always have an immediate impact on the bottom line for air carriers.
"That's because many airlines hedge their fuel purchases to reduce the volatility in prices and are locked into the higher prices until the hedges expire," he said.