Aviation milestone! Avianca turns 100 today

Dec 5, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

One of Latin America’s largest carriers, Avianca, turns 100 today, joining KLM in the exclusive club of airlines in their second century.

Bogotá-based Avianca was founded as Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos, or Scadta, on Dec. 5, 1919, in Barranquilla, Colombia. However, like many of its peers, the airline did not operate its first flight for another nine months, a “test flight” some 546 miles from Barranquilla to Puerto Berrío near Medellin that took place from Sept. 8-10, 1920.

By comparison, fellow centenarian KLM was founded in October 1919 but similarly did not take to the skies until several months later in May 1920.

From these humble beginnings, Avianca has risen to become the second-largest airline group in Latin America behind only LATAM Airlines. The Star Alliance carrier serves 108 destinations across the region with major bases in Bogotá (BOG), Lima (LIM), and San Salvador (SAL) in El Salvador. It operated 181 aircraft, including Airbus A320 family, Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 jets, as well as ATR turboprops, at the end of September.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!

Seaplanes to Jumbos

Scadta began scheduled passenger service between Barranquilla to Girardot, which was about 87 miles from Bogotá, in October 1920. The choice of Giradot, and not the Colombian capital, as the terminus was driven by the aircraft used — two Junkers F-13 seaplanes that needed a body of water to land on. Giradot’s location on the Magdalena River provided a suitable landing strip for the fledgling airline.

The Avianca name, which stands for Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia, was adopted in 1940. Its first modern airliner, the iconic Douglas DC-3, arrived that same year.

An Avianca Douglas DC-3. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)
An Avianca Douglas DC-3. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)

Flights to the U.S. began after World War II in 1947, with service between Bogotá and Miami via Barranquilla operated with Douglas DC-4 props. The route was extended to New York two years later.

Avianca began flying to Europe in 1950 connecting Bogotá and Rome via Barranquilla, Bermuda, the Azores, Lisbon and Madrid. Regular transatlantic air service was still relatively new at the time, with only BOAC and Pan American Airways flying across the North Atlantic until KLM joined them in 1946.

The jet age came to Avianca in 1960 with the delivery of a Boeing 707-120, and the jumbo jet era in 1976 with the airline’s first Boeing 747-200. By its 60th anniversary in 1979, the carrier served three continents with a network stretching from Buenos Aires to London and Los Angeles. 

Related: Brian Kelly reviews his first Avianca flight from Medellin to New York

Avianca took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in December 1976. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)
Avianca took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in December 1976. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)

Avianca’s growth was not without issues. The airline flew through years of civil unrest in Colombia, including the bombing of one of its flights by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in 1989, and several fatal crashes during the 1980s. It also was reorganized under U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy law from 2003 to 2004.

But Avianca overcame those challenges. The airline was elevated above its status as a primarily Colombian carrier via its 2010 merger with El Salvador-based TACA Airlines. The combination added a significant Central American presence, as well as a Lima base, to Avianca’s network.

Global partner

Avianca is increasingly a global player. The airline joined Star Alliance in 2015, and announced plans to form a strategic partnership with United Airlines two years later. That partnership, which will also include Copa Airlines and possibly Azul, has the potential to create one of the largest combined networks between the U.S. and Latin America.

Despite this, the carrier is in the midst of another rough patch. Avianca’s largest shareholders, Synergy and Kingsland Holdings, engaged in a legal battle over the proposed United partnership that culminated in the ouster of majority shareholder German Efromovich from the airline’s board this May. At the same time, its financial performance has declined and the brand took a hit when its Brazilian peer, Avianca Brasil, shut down in May. Avianca Brasil was a separate company from the Colombian-based carrier, sharing only a brand by way of their shared owner Synergy.

Avianca appointed a new CEO, former Aeromexico executive Anko van der Werff, in July to lead a restructuring of the carrier.

“Avianca is an airline with a proud history, but a very messy present state,” Atmosphere Research founder and president Henry Harteveldt told TPG. “The airline has an unclear brand image, lacks a compelling product offering, has a terrible reputation due to poor reliability and service, and seems to be losing to LATAM, Copa, Azul, and various Latin LCCs and ULCCs.”

Avianca plans to shrink its fleet through the end of 2020 while at the same time focusing on expanding its partnerships with other carriers. The expansive tie up with Azul, Copa and United is one aspect of that, but the airline is also seeking other partners, including a new codeshare with Gol in Brazil.

More changes are expected at Avianca as the airline looks ahead to continuing to connect passengers in its second century flying.

Related: Azul could join giant Latin America alliance sought by United, Avianca, Copa

An Avianca Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)
An Avianca Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Photo courtesy of Avianca)

Featured image courtesy of Avianca.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.