Avianca celebrates 100th anniversary

An Avianca Boeing 787. Photo: © Thomas Naas

Colombian airline Avianca has celebrated its 100th anniversary on Thursday, December 5th. It is the second airline after Dutch flag-carrier KLM to operate for 100 years.

Back in 1919, a group of Colombian and German businessmen founded the “Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos” (SCADTA). The first flight back then was transporting mail from Barranquilla to Puerto Colombia using a Junkers F 13. The airline continued to expand over the following years and soon began offering domestic and international passenger routes to neighboring countries and the Untied States.

Merger with SACO

In 1940 SCADTA merged with SACO, an airline which operated domestic flights in Colombia, to form the new “Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia”, shortened Avianca. After the second world war, Avianca expanded rapidly with flights to other Latin American cities like Quito, as well as to New York and even to Europe using new Douglas DC-4.

The jet age began for Avianca in 1961 when it took delivery of its first Boeing 707 which soon became the backbone of Avianca’s fleet. Boeing 747’s were introduced in 1976 for high capacity routes like Madrid. Over the time, Avianca introduced Boeing 757-200, Boeing 767 to its fleet and in 1994 the airline bought its competitor SAM which soon took over Avianca’s regional network. During the 1980s, Avianca suffered extensively from the drug war in Colombia including the bombing of flight 203 by the Medellin cartel, killing all 110 people on board the Boeing 727.

A major hurdle came in 2004 when Avianca filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and was soon rescued by the Brazilian owner of Ocean Air, the Synergy Group, led by Germán Efromovich. Synergy’s airlines in Brazil (Ocean Air) and Ecuador (VIP Ecuador), started operating under the ‘Avianca’ branding. The Colombian airline was renamed to “Aerovías del Continente Americano” while retaining the name Avianca.

The new Avianca

2009, the year in which Synergy acquired Avianca, saw major changes coming to the Colombian carrier. The Ecuadorian airline AeroGal and El Salvadorian Grupo TACA merged into Avianca. TACA also owned airlines in Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru, which all became part of the Avianca family. Three years later, VIP Ecuador merged with AeroGal. In the same year, the subsidiaries were renamed to ‘Avianca’ followed by the country’s name (i.e. ‘Avianca Costa Rica)’, and are part of the 2010-founded Avianca Holdings (AviancaTaca Holdings until 2013). The Group joined the Star Alliance in 2012. Avianca Brazil and Avianca Argentina remained direct subsidiaries of Synergy Group, making them sister companies to, but not part of Avianca Holdings.

The past year again proved to be a difficult one for the Avianca brand. Synergy’s Avianca Argentina and Avianca Brazil suspended operations and the Colombian Avianca removed Germán Efromovich from his position as Chairman. The airline received a US $250 million loan from United Airlines and Kingsland Holdings. Today, Avianca and its subsidiaries in Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru mainly operate Airbus A320 family, A330, Boeing 787 and ATR 72 aircraft on domestic and various international, as well as intercontinental routes. Avianca Cargo operates Airbus A330 freighters.