Avianca Incident to Be Probed by Venezuela, Colombia Says

  • Colombia’s largest airline suspends service to Venezuela
  • Maduro pledges probe as defense ministers discuss incident

Venezuela has ordered an investigation into why one of its fighter jets got close to an Avianca Holdings SA commercial flight, the Colombia Ministry of Defense said.

Colombia Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas and Venezuela’s counterpart, Vladimir Padrino, discussed the incident over the phone, the ministry said in a post on Twitter. Avianca said on its Twitter account it would resume flights Sunday after suspending them.

On Friday, about 7:14 p.m. local time, an Avianca jetliner flying to Bogota from Madrid was approached in Venezuelan airspace by an aircraft that came within a “short distance” of the commercial flight, according to the ministry. Local media said the craft were close enough to set off a collision-warning system.

The Venezuelan jet distanced itself from the commercial flight and headed north while the Avianca plane continued its original route,. It entered Colombia’s territory at 7:19 p.m. and landed at Bogota’s El Dorado airport at 8:05 p.m. local time, the ministry said.

Flight Disruptions

Gilma Usuga, an Avianca spokeswoman, said the company had canceled flights from and to Venezuela, in accordance with a decision by the nation’s civil air authorities. “At the same time, all flights from and to Europe are proceeding via alternate routes to avoid flying over Venezuela,” Usuga said in an e-mail, responding to questions by Bloomberg News.

The company later said on its Twitter account that after clarifications received from the governments of Venezuela and Colombia about the incident, “the Colombia civil air authority has granted us permission to restart flights to and from Venezuela.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered an investigation and both countries agreed to keep open communications via the so-called Early Warning System, the ministry said.

“I understand there’s a regrettable confusion,” said Diosdado Cabello , a pro-government lawmaker told reporters in Caracas. “This is going to be solved within hours. It wasn’t planned under any circumstance.”

Venezuela and Colombia have strong trade links, though have clashed over the smuggling of gasoline and other subsidized goods. Both countries agreed to reopen the border between the Venezuelan city of San Antonio del Tachina and Cucuta, Colombia, in late September. Venezuela bought $2.4 billion in goods and services from Colombia in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

— With assistance by Noris Soto, and Matthew Bristow

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