updated 2/24/2006 1:00:35 PM ET 2006-02-24T18:00:35

Venezuela plans to prohibit Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines from flying into this South American nation and is restricting flights by a third major U.S. carrier, American Airlines, the head of the nation’s federal aviation agency said.

Francisco Plaz, president of the National Aviation Institute, said Thursday the action was taken because the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had established a similar ban on some Venezuelan carriers serving routes to the United States 10 years ago due to safety violations and has failed to recognize improvements since then.

The orders would take effect on March 1, Plaz told the local Globovision television channel.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines currently operates a daily route from Simon Bolivar international Airport to Atlanta while Continental Airlines Inc. has daily flights from the airport to its base in Houston and weekly flights to New York.

“We are very disappointed by this unilateral action by the Venezuelan government and we are working closely with the U.S. departments of State and Transportation, as well as the airlines who received similar notice, to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” said Gina Laughlin, a spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines Inc.

Venezuela would eliminate some daily flights by AMR Corp.’s American Airlines between Venezuela and the U.S., but it wasn’t immediately clear which ones. The airline operates flights to Venezuela from Miami, New York, Dallas-Fort Worth and Puerto Rico.

Dan Elwell, American Airlines spokesman, said the airline was surprised by the announcement.

“American Airlines had no warning of this announcement at all,” Elwell said, adding that Venezuela is a very important market to the United States.

“We’re sort of watching and waiting,” Elwell said.

In 1996, the FAA ruled that Venezuela must tighten its airline safety procedures and downgraded its civil aviation authority, restricting flights because Venezuela allegedly didn’t meet international safety standards.

Venezuelan officials say they have improved safety standards since then.

“We have exhausted all avenues with the U.S. aeronautical authority,” the National Aviation Institute said in a statement. “We have been forced to reduce the frequency of flights of U.S. airline companies from the U.S.”

U.S. aviation authorities have “failed to give Venezuelan airlines the rights they deserve under bilateral agreements,” the statement said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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