US Department of Transportation (DOT) secretary Elaine Chao on May 15 ordered an immediate suspension of all passenger and cargo operations between US and Venezuelan airports, citing “deteriorating conditions” in the country that “threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft and crew.”

The order follows a May 1 Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) banning most US-certified aircraft operators and pilots from flying below 26,000 ft. over the country. The new order will apply to all US carriers, as well as part 129 foreign carriers holding foreign air carrier permits or exemptions.

Secretary Chao made the decision to suspend air service after Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Kevin McAleenan submitted a letter to DOT, in which he described the security risks posed to aircraft and passengers in Venezuela.

McAleenan made his findings after reviewing a number of factors, including reports of civil unrest and violence near airports; TSA’s inability to conduct required security assessments at Venezuelan airports; the ongoing political and economic crisis in the country; cancellation of Venezuelan service by American Airline, as well as other US carriers and “the risk of Maduro regime actions against Americans and American interests.”

McAleenan also cited the US State Department’s publication of No Travel advisories, suspension of US embassy operations and recommendations that TSA inspectors avoid the country out of security concerns in justifying his recommendations that DOT suspend air service between the two countries.

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com