The airline traces its history back to 5 December 1919, in the city of Barranquilla, Colombia. Colombians Ernesto Cortissoz (the first President of the Airline), Rafael Palacio, Cristóbal Restrepo, Jacobo Correa and Aristides Noguera and Germans Werner Kämerer, Stuart Hosie and Alberto Tietjen founded the Colombo-German Company, called Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transporte Aéreo or SCADTA. The company accomplished their first flight between Barranquilla and the nearby town of Puerto Colombia using a Junkers F.13, transporting 57 pieces of mail. The flight was piloted by German Helmuth von Krohn. This and another aircraft of the same type were completely mechanically constructed monoplanes, the engines of which had to be modified to efficiently operate in the climate of the country. There were nine aircraft in the fleet with a total range of 850 km (528 mi) which could carry up to four passengers and two crewmen. Due to the topographic characteristics of the country and the lack of airports at the time, floats were adapted for two of the Junkers aircraft to make water landings in the rivers near different towns. Using these floats, Helmuth von Krohn was able to perform the first inland flight over Colombia on 20 October 1920, following the course of the Magdalena River; the flight took eight hours and required four emergency landings in the water.
Soon after the airline was founded, German scientist and philanthropist Peter von Bauer became interested in the airline and contributed general knowledge, capital and a tenth aircraft for the company, as well as obtaining concessions from the Colombian government to operate the country's airmail transportation division using the airline, which began in 1922. This new contract allowed SCADTA to thrive in a new frontier of aviation. By the mid-1920s, SCADTA started its first international routes that initially covered destinations in Venezuela and the United States. In 1924, the aircraft that both Ernesto Cortissoz and Helmuth von Krohn were flying crashed into an area currently known as Bocas de Ceniza in Barranquilla, killing them. In the early 1940s, Peter von Bauer sold his shares in the airline to the US-owned Pan American World Airways.
On 14 June 1940, in the city of Barranquilla, SCADTA, under ownership by United States businessmen, merged with Colombian Air Carrier SACO (acronym of Servicio Aéreo Colombiano), forming the new Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia S.A. or Avianca. Five Colombians participated in this: Rafael María Palacio, Jacobo A. Corea, Cristobal Restrepo, and Aristides Noguera, as well as German citizens Alberto Teitjen, Werner Kaemerer and Stuart Hosie, while the post of first President of Avianca was filled by Martín del Corral.
After the September 11 attacks, Avianca, the regional carrier SAM Colombia, and its major rival ACES Colombia joined efforts to create Alianza Summa, which began merged operations on 20 May 2002. In November 2003, Alianza Summa was disbanded and ACES Colombia was liquidated altogether and SAM Colombia was acquired to be a regional carrier under Avianca's brand.
Under this plan, Avianca was bought by Synergy Group, and was consolidated with its subsidiaries OceanAir and VIP Ecuador. In 2009, they were re-branded as Avianca Brazil and Avianca Ecuador, respectively.
In 2009, it was announced that Avianca would merge with TACA. This created AviancaTaca Holdings, which instantly became one of the region's largest airlines, with 129 aircraft and flights to more than 100 destinations.
In November 2009, the airline's Chief Executive Fabio Villegas announced that the airline was looking to replace its Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 aircraft with newer aircraft of 100 seats or less. In January 1, 2011, the airline decided to retire the Fokker 100 aircraft in 2011 and replace them with 10 Airbus A318 leased from GECAS. The aircraft were delivered from February to April 2011.
On 10 November 2010, Star Alliance announced that Avianca (and its merger counterpart, TACA) were full members in 2012. Due to Avianca's entry into Star Alliance, it ended its codeshare agreement with Delta Air Lines and began a new codeshare agreement with United Airlines. TACA had been codesharing with United Airlines since 2006. On June 21, 2012, Avianca and TACA were both officially admitted into Star Alliance.
TACA all other AviancaTaca airlines changed their brand to Avianca on May 28, 2013. On 21 March 2013, at the annual general meeting, the shareholders approved the change of corporate name from AviancaTaca Holdings S.A. to Avianca Holdings S.A.
Avianca launched their LifeMiles frequent-flyer program in 2011, replacing AviancaPlus. The levels include Silver, Gold and Diamond, replacing the former Basic, Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Executive levels. This program covers all Avianca Holdings airlines.
The airline suffered a few incidents during the 1980s and early 1990s. The deadliest of those incidents was Avianca Flight 203, which was bombed in 1989, following orders from Pablo Escobar to kill presidential candidate César Gaviria Trujillo. In the aftermath, it was found that Gaviria had not boarded the aircraft. Only one successful bombing has occurred in the airline's history, while most other gang related incidents were related to hijackings or shootings on board. In most hijackings, all passengers and crew members, unaffiliated with the hijacker's cause, were immediately released.
On 22 March 1965, a Douglas C-47-DL, registered HK-109 and operating Flight 676, struck Pan de Azucar at an elevation of 7,200 feet (2,200 m), killing all 29 on board. The cause was the decision of the pilot to fly VFR in conditions that required IFR.
On 22 September 1966, a Douglas DC-4, registered HK-174 and operating Flight 870, crashed while attempting to return to Eldorado Airport due to engine problems, killing both pilots. The cause was traced to a failure in the governor control unit. Improper supervision by the company was a contributing factor, as the pilot was briefed to make a night flight while he was in conversion training for the L-749.
On 24 December 1966, a Douglas C-47A, registered HK-161 and operating Flight 729, struck Tajumbina Peak at an elevation of 11,600 feet (3,500 m) while approaching Cali, killing all 29 on board. A combination of poor CRM, pilot intoxication, deviation from route, and pilot error was cited as the cause.
On 12 April 1999, a Fokker 50 operating Flight 9463 from Bogotà to Bucaramanga was hijacked by 6 ELN members, who forced the plane to make an emergency landing on a clandestine runway in the Bolivar region. Only one passenger died during captivity, the rest were eventually liberated a year after the hijack.
Avianca's current headquarters is on Avenida El Dorado and between Avenida la Esmeralda and Gobernación de Cundinamarca, located in the Ciudad Salitre area of Bogota. The building is located next to the Gran Estación. Its previous head office was at Avenida El Dorado No. 93-30.
^Friedman, Max Paul (April 2000). "Specter of a Nazi Threat: United States-Colombian Relations, 1939–1945". The Americas. 4 (Washington, D.C. (United States): Catholic University of America Press on behalf of Academy of American Franciscan History) 56: 563–589 [566 2nd paragraph]. JSTOR1008173.
^Brown, Claire; Claire Brown (Director of Communications at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) (1998-07-28). "National Air and Space Museum Exhibition Examines the Development of Latino Aviation". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 1998-07-28. SCADTA Junkers F 13, one of the first commercial airlines in Colombia. SCADTA (now known as AVIANCA) is the oldest, continuously operating airline in the Western Hemisphere.Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
^Buitrago, Alejandra. "Avianca tendrá nueva sede administrativa a comienzos del 2009 en Eje Empresarial del Salitre." Portafolio. Retrieved on July 11, 2010. "Será un edificio con 13.800 metros cuadrados de vidrio en sus fachadas, con un coeficiente de sombra de solo el 0,71% en diseño bioclimático que permitirá luz y aire naturales incluso en los sótanos." and "Su altura será de 46 metros y tres sótanos, para un área construida de 34.536 metros cuadrados. El primer piso tendrá locales comerciales y una amplia zona de parqueaderos."