UPDATE 1-Airlines seek antitrust immunity to discuss Venezuela routes
(Adds U.S. comment, background)
BERLIN, Sept 22 (Reuters) - International airlines have requested antitrust immunity from the United States to allow them to discuss routes to Venezuela, which is blocking ticket revenues from leaving the country, the International Air Transport Association said on Thursday.
Airlines have around $3.8 billion in revenues trapped in Venezuela due to currency controls. Several, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Lufthansa , have cut back on routes or stopped flying to the country altogether.
IATA said airlines did not want to harm competition and that holding discussions on routes would allow them to keep flights going to Venezuela. It said it was seeking immunity from the United States, which prohibits route and price coordination, because airlines in the Americas were the most impacted by Venezuela's policies.
A spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Department, which can grant airlines antitrust immunity, declined to comment.
The South American country's socialist government has compelled carriers to sell tickets in bolivars but made converting the sales into U.S. dollars difficult, requiring approval to get money out of the country.
The Venezuelan Bolivar has been plummeting, reducing the foreign currency value of the local ticket sales, further eaten away by a massive inflation, which reached 181 percent in 2015 according to official figures.
"We urge the U.S. government to quickly grant airlines immunity to discuss joint action to keep Venezuela connected," IATA Director-General Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.
The request, for immunity for one year after the date of approval, is for airlines authorised to provide services for Venezuela and is not limited to U.S. carriers, a spokesman for IATA said.
IATA, which represents around 265 airlines accounting for 83 percent of global air traffic, said Venezuela had approved one request to repatriate funds in 2015 and only one so far. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan in Berlin; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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