On 21 June 2012, Avianca was introduced as an official member of Star Alliance after a process that lasted for around 18 months since their initial announcement of being invited in joining the Alliance.
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 climatic conditions of the country. There were nine aircraft in the fleet with a total range of 850 km (528 mi) (525 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 vision of the founding group had become a reality, 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. This new contract allowed SCADTA to thrive in a new frontier of aviation. By the mid-1920s, SCADTA, having overcome many obstacles, inaugurated its first international routes that initially covered destinations in Venezuela and the United States. Regretfully, in 1924, the aircraft that both Ernesto Cortissoz and Helmuth von Krohn were piloting, crashed into an area currently known as Bocas de Ceniza in Barranquilla, causing their deaths. Despite this tragedy, the airline continued to thrive under the guidance of German Peter von Bauer until the early 1940s, where circumstances related to the outbreak of World War II forced him to sell 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 act: (Rafael María Palacio, Jacobo A. Corea, Cristobal Restrepo, Aristides Noguera) and German citizens Alberto Teitjen, Werner Kaemerer and Stuart Hosie, while the post of first President of Avianca was filled by Martín del Corral. There had been decades of dedicated work and contribution to Colombia's development through actions, among which the following may be highlighted:
In September 1920, with Fritz Hammer as pilot, Wilhem Schnurrbush as copilot and Stuart Hosie as a passenger, SCADTA accomplished its first flight between Barranquilla and Puerto Berrío.
On 19 October of that same year, Helmuth Von Krohn accomplished the first flight between Barranquilla and Girardot and by 1921 routes between Barranquilla, Girardot and Neiva were established.
On 19 July 1923, to save the country from bankruptcy, SCADTA transported a gold and currency load from Puerto Berrío to Girardot.
On 12 July 1928, a SCADTA Junkers F.13, commanded by Pilot Herbert Boy, crossed the Equator.
On 23 July 1929, regular routes between Girardot and Bogotá were established.
The cost of the first SCADTA air tickets were as follows: from Bogotá to Barranquilla, COP $75; from Bogotá to Cartagena, COP $85; from Bogotá to Cartago, COP $35; and from Bogotá to Santiago de Cali, COP $50.
On 16 July 1931, SCADTA established the first mail service between Bogotá and New York City.
In 1937, the airline acquired 10 Boeing 247 twin-engine aircraft, extending its domestic routes.
By October 1939, Avianca acquired the first Douglas DC-3 aircraft arriving in the country, flying at the then-incredible speed of 200 miles per hour.
A grand feat in Colombian commercial aviation was also conducted by Avianca in 1956, when the airline committed to take the Colombian delegation, that was to participate in the MelbourneOlympic Games in Australia. There were 61 hours of continuous operation, with only one stop for refueling allowed.
1976 was an important one for Avianca, becoming the first Latin American airline to continuously operate a Boeing 747. Three years later, it started operations with another 747, this time a 747 Combi, mixing cargo and passenger operations.
In 1981, the possibilities for in-ground service for passengers in Bogotá expanded, thanks to the modern air terminal that Avianca commissioned: Avianca's Air Bridge. The new terminal originally operated routes to Miami, New York City, Santiago de Cali, Medellín, Pasto and Montería.
In 1994, a strategic alliance was established to merge three of the most important enterprises of the aeronautical sector of Colombia: Avianca, the regional carrier SAM and the helicopter operator Helicol, which brought life to Avianca's new system of operations. This system offered specialized services in Cargo (Avianca Cargo) and postal services, as well as the most modern fleet in Latin America made up of: Boeing 767–200, Boeing 767–300, Boeing 757–200, McDonnell Douglas MD-83, Fokker 50 and Bell helicopters.
This new system covered the following destinations:
By 1996, Avianca Postal Services evolved into Deprisa, providing express mail services through its products Deprisa and Deprisa Empresarial, traditional mail, certified mail, shipment airport-to-airport and P.O. boxes.
On 10 December 1998, Avianca announced the inception of a new "connections center" in Bogotá, offering around 6,000 possible weekly connecting flights and an increased number of frequencies, schedules and destinations, taking advantage of the privileged geographical location of the country's capital, for the benefit of Colombian and international travellers between South America, Europe and North America.
In addition to its Avianca Connection, and alliance partnerships, Avianca offers frequent flyer partnerships with the following airlines:
After a rigorous and complex process, the worldwide aviation industry came through 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. These three airlines decided to strategically merge their strengths, to offer a more efficient service, with concerns to quality, quantity, security and competition in a new struggling marketplace. However, adverse circumstances within the industry and markets, forced the alliance to disband and airline shareholders decided to initiate the liquidation of Alianza Summa in November 2003, to focus in strengthening the Avianca trademark. These decisions resulted in the liquidation of ACES Colombia altogether and the acquisition of SAM Colombia, as a regional carrier under Avianca's system.
On 10 December 2004, Avianca concluded one of the most important and ambitious reorganization processes, undertaken after filing for 'Chapter 11' bankruptcy protection, by obtaining confirmation of its reorganization plan, which was financially backed by the Brazilian consortium, OceanAir/Synergy Group and the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, allowing the airline to obtain funds for US$63 million, in the 13 months following withdrawal from C-11.
Avianca Airbus A330 economy class cabin.
The plan, with the support of 99.8% of the voting creditors and which obtained the majority endorsement of the Creditors Committee, will enter into force once the Company emerges from bankruptcy. In accordance with United States laws, the administration has the trust obligation to consider any other investment proposal until the final term expiration stipulated. Notwithstanding, such an offer, besides being better than the one that has been approved by Avianca's domestic and international creditors and confirmed today by the Court, must be final, i.e. fully financed and backed with non-reimbursable cash deposits or equivalent mechanisms. Likewise, such proposal must be binding. As known, the only investment that complies with these requirements is that of OceanAir/Synergy Group and the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, which already makes part of the reorganization plan already voted favorably, by the creditors and confirmed by the Judge.
Synergy Group is an evidenced, credit-worthy Brazilian entrepreneurial conglomerate. Its strength lies in the oil sector, building, installing and offering maintenance to offshore oil platforms; it is currently carrying out exploration work in Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. Other businesses include: the extraction of gas in the United States, naval construction, telephony infrastructure, hydroelectric power plants, communications and a hydrocarbons marine exploration company, which extends throughout nine countries, with more than 5,000 workers.
It also owns and operates OceanAir, which services around thirty cities in Brazil, as well as VIP, an airline in Ecuador, Taxi Aero, a charter airline in Brazil and the recently acquired Wayra, in Peru, as well as Turb Serv, dedicated to the maintenance of turbines.
In 2009, OceanAir and VIP Ecuador will be rebranded as Avianca, to consolidate as one airline, following the ambitious expansion plans of the airline.
The merger of Colombia's Avianca and Salvadoran-based TACA is the latest sign that consolidation in the Latin American airline sector is picking up.
The newly formed Holdco – which will be controlled jointly by Avianca and TACA – instantly becomes one of the region's largest airlines after Brazil's TAM and GOL, with 129 aircraft and flights to more than 100 destinations.
In November 2009, the airline's Chief Executive Fabio Villegas announced that the airline is looking to replace its Fokker 50 and Fokker 100 aircraft with newer aircraft of 100 seats or less. The 10 Fokker 50s and 15 Fokker 100s are currently operated on flights shorter than one-and-a-half hours. Aircraft manufactured by Brazil'sEmbraer, Canada'sBombardier Aerospace and the Airbus A318 are being considered for the replacement.
In January 1, 2011, The airline made the decision to retire the Fokker 100 aircraft in 2011 and replace them with 10 Airbus A318 leased from GECAS. The aircraft will be delivered during February to April 2011.
On 10 November 2010, Star Alliance announced Avianca (and its merger counterpart, TACA) to become full member in mid-2012. Due to Avianca's entry into Star Alliance, it has 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.
Avianca and TACA changed their image to the Avianca brand on May 28, 2013 in order to have only one brand in the aviation industry. Avianca has been facing controversy during late 2013 and early 2014 mostly in Colombia due to several delays on their flights.
Avianca launched their new LifeMiles programme in 2011, replacing the old AviancaPlus system for frequent flyers. The levels include Silver, Gold and Diamond, replacing the old AviancaPlus Basic, AviancaPlus Gold, AviancaPlus Platinum, and AviancaPlus Platinum Executive levels. The new LifeMiles system also incorporates TACA passengers' flights, unifying the two rewards systems as a result of Avianca's recent merger with TACA.
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.
Other incidents include:
On 22 January 1947, Douglas C-53B (C-108) crashed in the Magdalena river valley, killing all 17 on board.
On 9 August 1954, Lockheed L-749A Constellation (HK-163) crashed three minutes after take off from Lajes Field, Azores flew left into the hills instead of right towards the sea killing all 30 on board.
On 9 March 1955, Douglas C-47A (HK-328) crashed at Trujillo, Colombia, killing all eight on board. The wreckage was found a month later, but some of the gold and platform cargo was missing.
On 23 June 1959, Avianca Flight 667, a Douglas DC-4 (HK-135), struck Cerro Baco mountain while en route to Lima, Peru, killing all 14 aboard.
On 22 March 1965, Avianca Flight 676, a Douglas C-47-DL (HK-109) struck Pan de Azucar at 7200 feet, 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, Avianca Flight 870, a Douglas DC-4 (HK-174) 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, Avianca Flight 729, a Douglas C-47A (HK-161) struck Tajumbina Peak at 11,600 feet 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 17 March 1988, Avianca Flight 410, a Boeing 727 domestic flight, crashed into low mountains near Cúcuta – Norte de Santander, Colombia, after take-off, killing all 143 on board. It was determined that pilot error was also the cause of this crash, in a situation similar to Flight 011.
On 27 November 1989, a bomb destroyed Avianca Flight 203. All 110 passengers and crew were killed.
On 12 April 1999, Avianca Flight 9463, a Fokker 50 en route from Bogotà to Bucaramanga was hijacked by 6 ELN members and 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. The current headquarters, which opened in 2009, is a 46 meters (151 ft) tall, 34,536 square meters (371,740 sq ft) building with a 13,800 square meters (149,000 sq ft) glass façade and a shading coefficient of 0.71% to allow natural air and lighting in the floors of the building. The first floor has stores and a parking area. 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."