What Happened To South America’s Boeing 747s?

During the golden days of the Boeing 747, some South American airlines acquired a few Queens of the Skies. Nevertheless, the numbers of this jumbo jet were never too high. Let’s take a quick look at the history of the 747 in South America.

Avianca 747
Avianca had a few Boeing 747’s, but also had a fatal accident with the aircraft type. Photo: Michel Gilliand via Wikimedia Commons

Who was the first airline to operate it?

The first airline to acquire a Boeing 747 in South America was Aerolíneas Argentinas. It received its first Queen in 1976. Those were the golden years of the Argentinian state carrier as it also launched the first commercial transpolar flight. Nevertheless, it was not the first South American airline to operate the 747.

The Venezuelan airline VIASA introduced the 747 in 1972. VIASA leased its Queen from the Dutch carrier KLM. It used it to connect Caracas with European cities like Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, and Rome. The history of the Queen in Venezuela was short-lived, as VIASA returned the 747 at the dawn of 1974.

Then Aerolíneas Argentinas started operating the 747. With its ups and downs, the Argentinian carrier kept the superjumbo in its fleet for three and a half decades. It was the second-biggest South American operator (along with Avianca) of the 747, having seven of these planes throughout its history.

Aerolíneas Argentinas finally retired its last Queen on 1 February 2012, with a round flight between Buenos Aires and Madrid.

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Aerolíneas Argentinas 747
Aerolíneas Argentinas was the first carrier to introduce the Queen of the Skies in South America. Photo: Oliver Pritzkow via Wikimedia Commons.

Avianca and the 1983 accident

The Colombian carrier Avianca also had seven Boeing 747 throughout its history. Its story also began in 1976, when Boeing delivered one aircraft to Avianca, according to El Tiempo.

Avianca operated the 747 until 1995, but its history wasn’t as perfect as with other airlines. It had a fatal accident in 1983, with 181 fatalities and 11 survivors.

It was on 27 November 1983. Avianca was operating the route Frankfurt-Bogota, with stopovers in Paris, Madrid, and Caracas. It flew with a Boeing 747-283B, registered HK-2910, that previously belonged to SAS. The plane crashed near Madrid’s airport.

The Accident Investigation Board of Spain said that the pilot-in-command incorrectly determined the position of the plane. It crashed on a hill, approximately 7.5 miles southeast of Madrid-Barajas International Airport. Until now, it is the second-deadliest accident in Spain, after the crash of KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am flight 1736 in Tenerife, which led to 583 fatalities.

Varig was the biggest operator of the Boeing 747 in South America. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.

Varig’s connection with the Queen

Two other South American airlines used to have Boeing 747’s on their fleets.

The first one is the Brazilian carrier Varig. Between 1981 and 200, the airline operated the models B747-200, B747-300, and B747-400. It was introduced on flights between Rio de Janeiro and New York. As the now discontinued airline states in its website,

“VARIG had been studying the incorporation of B747 since the 1970s, but the demand for passengers in Brazil was not large enough to justify an aircraft capable of carrying more than 300 passengers.”

Varig 747
Varig operated 12 747s in total. Photo: Maarten Visser via Wikimedia

When it received its first Boeing 747-300, Varig flew it to Buenos Aires, Lima, Miami, New York, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan, London, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Nagoya. At one point, Varig had 11 jumbos simultaneously.

In the 90s, Varig also flew with its 747 fleet to Hong Kong and Bangkok (with stopovers in Johannesburg) and Buenos Aires and Nagoya (Japan). Nevertheless, “all Boeing 747-400 were returned in a short time due to the high cost of leasing.”

Just two more

Bolivian airline Aerosur operated a total of three 747s in its lifetime. It had one a piece of the -100, -300 and -400, arriving with the airline in 2006, 2008, and 2009 respectively. The -100 and -300 left after just over a year of operations each, while the -400, which was leased from Virgin Atlantic, stayed for three years.

Aerosur 747
Aerosur operated a 747-400 leased from Virgin Atlantic. Photo: Ken Fielding via Flickr 

G-VROM returned to Virgin Atlantic in 2012, where it continued to fly until earlier this year when the operator retired all of the type. It is currently on its way to Atlas Air, likely to have a healthy future as a cargo aircraft.

Finally, Surinam Airways also had a stint with the Boeing 747. The State airline, which was established in 1962, ended its operation with the Queen of the Skies in November 2009. The last flight was between Paramaribo and Amsterdam. It phased out the B747 to introduce the newer Airbus A340-300.

Did you ever fly in a Boeing 747 of any of these airlines? Let us know in the comments.