The US FAA has cancelled a long standing Notam which prevented US operators from overflying Venezuelan airspace below FL260.
KICZ Notam A0013/19 expired in June, and hasn’t been renewed. This effectively means that there are no longer any restrictions on the enroute use of the SVZM/Maiquetia FIR.
In fact, there are no active airspace warnings issued by any other states either. Here’s a closer look at the airspace, why there was a restriction in the first place and what you should know now if you want to use it.
The Maiquetia FIR
Venezuela controls its own skies – the SVZM/Maiquetia FIR. It’s a large chunk of Class C airspace that sits squarely on top of South America.
From a geographical perspective it provides a handy gateway between the US, Caribbean and destinations further south down the continent – especially Brazil.
It is also home to the country’s largest airport, SVMI/Caracas. Here’s what that all looks like on a map:
If you’d like to know more about Venezuela’s airspace, here is a link to the online AIP.
Why was there a US restriction in the first place?
Back in 2019, the US FAA issued the above Notam which banned US operators from overflying Venezuelan airspace below FL260, citing political instability.
The (extremely) short story was that after years of steady decline, a political power struggle led to an attempted uprising. Widespread civil unrest followed while people suffered from economic collapse, inflation and shortages of food and medicine. This has continued to the current day. Here is what we had to say at the time.
The FAA had multiple concerns for the traffic above.
There were two major worries. The first was that the military may fracture and begin fighting against each other. Additionally, there was the known presence of mercenaries who had been employed to augment the military and police force.
It was known that the Venezuelan armed forces had large stockpiles of advanced man portable air defence systems (MANPADS) capable of targeting aircraft as high as FL250.
While there was no obvious intent to target civil aircraft, the FAA were worried that extremely high tensions may lead to inadvertent firing which could endanger them indirectly. They were also concerned that some of the MANPADS may find their way into the hands of non-state actors who were less predictable, and had less training.
As such US operators were banned at lower levels out of an abundance of caution while the situation evolved.
If you’d like to know more, here is a copy of the Background Information note the FAA published at the time.
So, have things improved?
It would be a logical assumption given that the flight restriction has been lifted, but the short answer is that we don’t know. And the FAA hasn’t (yet) provided any explanation as to why the Notam has been cancelled.
The situation in Venezuela is at a standstill. It remains in the middle of an unprecedented social and humanitarian collapse. Although there’s news lately of high-level talks to try and improve the situation, right now, it’s just that – talk.
It’s possible that the immediate threat of active fighting and the intentions behind the issue of the original Notam have subsided sufficiently that the risk to civil aircraft from anti-aircraft fire is now considered extremely remote. Although this is purely speculation.
The safest course of action until we know more would be to remain above FL260 – although this is no longer mandated.
Beware the diversion
If you do overfly Venezuelan airspace, the most important consideration is crew and passenger safety in the event of a diversion. The security situation on the ground in Venezuela isn’t great – in fact it is among the twenty most dangerous countries in the world, while Caracas itself has previously been ranked as the most dangerous city of all.
The US Department of State maintains a ‘Do Not Travel’ warning (its highest alert) for Venezuela citing risk of kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, terrorism and unlawful imprisonment. All to be avoided. If you’re looking for the latest information, the US Embassy website is a good place to check – keep an eye out for any new security alerts.
Does this mean I can now fly between Venezuela and the US?
At this stage, no. The FAA restriction was purely to protect traffic transiting Venezuelan airspace below FL260. Another (more political) restriction remains in place, issued by the Department of Transport. It’s a heavy read, but basically the commercial transport of passengers or cargo between airports in Venezuela and the US remains banned.
We’re unsure at this stage whether there is an intention to drop this rule too, and have reached out to both the FAA and the DOT for more feedback. We’ll keep this article updated as more info comes to hand.
More on the topic:
- More: Venezuela Aviation Situation: Anything to Report?
- More: Going Viral: The non-Covid nasties to watch out for
- More: Venezuela issues another surprise ban on GA/BA Flights
- More: “THIS NOTAM IS AN EMERGENCY ORDER” – FAA on Venezuela
- More: Venezuela: do not travel