By Girish Gupta and Julia Symmes Cobb
BOGOTA/CARACAS, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Colombia’s Avianca airline will restart flights to Venezuela after one of its aircraft was approached by at least one Venezuelan warplane on Friday, creating a diplomatic incident and prompting the airline to cancel flights to and from the socialist country.
Avianca said it would resume flights on Sunday, after cancelling transport to Venezuela when a passenger jet flying from Madrid to Bogota was briefly approached by Venezuelan military aircraft on Friday evening, resulting in diplomatic conversations and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordering an investigation.
“After clarifications between the governments of Colombia and Venezuela about the incident registered last night in Venezuelan skies with an Avianca plane, the Colombian civil aviation authority has authorized the restart of operations to and from Venezuela,” Avianca said in a statement on Saturday evening.
The South American neighbors have for years had a volatile relationship, with Venezuela’s socialist government sometimes accusing Colombia of provocation, and claims in the other direction that Caracas has supported Colombian guerrillas.
The two countries’ lengthy border is a constant source of tension.
Data from online tracker FlightRadar24 showed Avianca’s flights were avoiding Venezuela on Saturday and a source from the company confirmed to Reuters that flights to Venezuela had been cancelled.
Flight data also showed the Avianca Boeing Dreamliner took a sharp turn when flying over west Venezuela around 2000 local time (2000 EST/0000 GMT) on Friday, in line with a statement about the incident released by the Colombian defense ministry.
Both nations’ defense and foreign ministers discussed the plane incident, the statement said. It said Maduro “personally ordered the investigation into the case.”
“The ministers have spoken and cleared it all up, everything is normal,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said during a visit to cacao growers on Saturday afternoon. “There’s no need to worry.”
Venezuelan authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Colombian statement cited Venezuelan authorities as saying its warplane was on a “navigation mission.” (Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Nelson Bocanegra and Monica Garcia in Bogota and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mary Milliken)