South America’s Star Alliance Carrier: The History Of Avianca

Avianca is one of the oldest active commercial carriers in the world. In fact, it is the second oldest, just behind KLM. Both airlines began operations in 1919. The Colombian carrier currently flies to 25 domestic and 43 international destinations in 23 countries worldwide. Avianca is the result of the merger between many South American companies.

Avianca Getty
Avianca is nearly 102 years old. Photo: Getty Images

Similar to several South American carriers, Avianca’s early history is closely associated with European entrepreneurs. Prior to the Second World War, Avianca’s name was SCADTA, which meant the Colombian-German Air Transport Company in English. The airline revolutionized Latin America’s connectivity. It was one of the few carriers in the region to fly with the Boeing B747. In 2010, Avianca entered Star Alliance; shortly after, it began a codeshare agreement with United Airlines. Nevertheless, it has also faced a few crises, as it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcies a couple of times.

Avianca’s origins

Five Colombian citizens and three Germans founded SCADTA on December 5, 1919, in the city of Barranquilla, Colombia. Its first flight connected Barranquilla and Puerto Berrío, using a Junkers F-13 floatplane.

By the mid-1920s, SCADTA launched its first international routes to destinations in Venezuela and the United States. A few years after, Pan Am’s president Juan Trippe negotiated with SCADTA’s management and obtained 84.4% of the company.

Moving to the 1940s, SCADTA fired the 80 German workers due to the worldwide tension with the Nazi regime in Germany. The company dropped its original name and rebranded to Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia, or simply Avianca. Colombia became a shareholder of the company, owning 15%.

Avianca SCADTA
Avianca used a Junkers F-13 floatplane in its first flights. Photo: Unknown author via Wikimedia Commons.

From 1940 onwards

After flying in Colombia, on June 14, 1940, the company adopted the name Avianca and began flying to several international destinations. It operated to Quito, Lima, Panama, Miami, New York, and Europe. The company had a fleet of Douglas DC-4 and C-54 Skymasters. In 1951, Avianca acquired Lockheed Constellations and Super Constellations.

One decade later, Avianca acquired the Boeing 707-120. It incorporated the Boeing 720B, 727-100, 727-200, and 737-100 aircraft in the next eight years.

In 1976, Avianca finally acquired its first Boeing 747 aircraft. The carrier was one of the few South American airlines ever to operate the Queen of the Skies. Unfortunately, Avianca had a fatal accident on November 27, 1983, with a 747. The plane crashed near Madrid’s Airport and led to 181 fatalities and 11 survivors.

South America’s Star Alliance Carrier: The History Of Avianca
Avianca is one of South America’s largest carriers. Photo: Daniel Martínez Garbuno | Simple Flying.

Avianca’s mergers

Throughout its history, Avianca has merged with several carriers. Its first merge was in 1940, when SCADTA and Servicio Aéreo Colombiano (SACO) combined, forming Avianca.

In 1994, Avianca merged with the regional carrier SAM and Helicol, which allowed the launch of Avianca Cargo.

Nevertheless, Avianca’s most famous merger happened between 2010 and 2013. That year, the company and Central American carrier TACA formalized an alliance. They strengthened their strategic position in the region.

Currently, there are rumors surrounding the possible merger between Avianca and Chile’s low-cost carrier, Sky Airline.

Avianca HQ
Avianca is close to exiting its second Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. Photo: Daniel Martínez Garbuno | Simple Flying.

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Avianca’s Chapter 11s

Despite Avianca’s long history, the airline has faced a few financial setbacks. In 2003, the carrier filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Court. Avianca emerged from Chapter 11 on December 10, 2004.

The airline took a hit following the terrorist attacks in the United States. Despite an ambitious program of cost-cutting and revenue-enhancement measures, Avianca had to file for bankruptcy. Following Chapter 11, Avianca had new management under Synergy Group Corp., a company controlled by Brazilian businessman German Efromovich.

Avianca was able to thrive for the next few years. Nevertheless, in 2019 the carrier faced financial trouble again. The airline had to execute an out-of-court reorganization, which was successful.

When Avianca was seemingly coming out of its crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the airline industry. Avianca’s main hubs in Bogota and San Salvador closed, demand fell off a cliff, and the airline had to be refinanced. The only option was to file for Chapter 11 again.

Avianca has been in Chapter 11 since May 2020. Last week, the Southern District Court of New York confirmed Avianca’s Plan of Reorganization. The carrier is close to successfully exiting its second Chapter 11.

Have you flown with Avianca before? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments.