Almost 30 countries, 110 cities, 190 aircraft and 50 weekly flights to Europe. These are some of the numbers with which Avianca is preparing to take off again, after recovering from a strike of 57 days that a year ago affected a growth that seemed unstoppable. The Colombian company has managed to reestablish operations, has opened routes from Bogota and other Latin American capitals, has expansion plans on both sides of the Atlantic and has closed a commercial alliance with United Airlines and Panamanian Copa. The last destination from November covers one of its 13 Boeing 737s is Munich, one of the main European airports.
The oldest airline in America was born a century ago in Barranquilla, in the Colombian Caribbean, precisely thanks to a German capital investment. The Colombo-German Air Transport Society (SCADTA) started on December 5, 1919 and initially used seaplanes manufactured in Dessau, a city of Saxony, to connect the coast with the interior of the country, very rugged geography and with a fluvial system of thousands of kilometers. "Our founders, our first planes and our first pilots were all Germans. And we are very happy to return to our roots ", assured Hernán Rincón, president and CEO of Avianca, in the VIP lounge of the El Dorado airport in Bogota, minutes before inaugurating the route to Munich.
The firm billed almost 3,900 million euros in 2017, despite the impact of the pilot strike
The first trip of the company Europe goes back to 1950, when the operations between Bogotá and Rome were opened. Today he flies to Madrid from Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, to Barcelona, London and, from now on, to the capital of Bavaria. "There are a million seats available and these are very busy routes. This year we have had between 85% and 90% on all flights, which indicates that we have brought and taken approximately 900,000 people, "continues Rincón, who points out that the airline is studying a new connection with Italy, Switzerland or France before of 2021.
Avianca billed 4,400 million dollars in 2017 (close to 3,900 million euros), which meant an increase of more than 7% compared to the previous year. However, from the last quarter he suffered the blow resulting from a pilot strike of almost two months, which forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights since September and which was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia. The aviators demanded salary improvements, although the court understood that air transport is an essential service and a basic right of citizens. "The strike did a lot of damage to Avianca, the pilots, the economy of the country, the hotels, the taxi drivers, the conventions, the families. It was terrible and fortunately it's over. Since then and until now, we have been hiring and training pilots and, since October 28 of this year, we have been able to reestablish all the air routes and we are adding new destinations, "says the president.
The increase of tourism in Colombia in recent years has benefited
To this, the turbulence of the sector was added in 2018, which was affected by the volatility of the price of a barrel of oil and by the devaluation of the Brazilian real and, above all, of the Argentine peso. Demand fell more than half in the whole industry, but Rincon is optimistic. "We believe that this is starting to recover. There were peaceful elections, hopefully there will be a change of guard and of orderly government in Colombia. And there were elections in Mexico. All this combined makes us look with optimism next year, "he says.
The changes experienced by Colombia, the demobilization and disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and the transition to peace have radically modified the image of the country and encouraged the expectations of travelers. "In the last three years there has been a significant increase in tourism to and from Colombia. And from Europe incredibly ", detects the company. If in 2010 only two million tourists arrived, in 2017 they did more than 6.5 million.
The airline has just started. "Not everyone only comes to Bogotá. There are many people who come from Madrid, from London, it is three days and from Bogotá it goes to Cuzco to go to Machu Picchu or to Ecuador to go to Galapagos, which are two very attractive sites for international demand. The world understands that they are calmer and they are coming, "says Rincón.
To understand the Avianca company, in any case, its Pan-American vocation must be taken into account, as well as its strategic interest in Europe, starting with Spain. Traveling in America is, to a large extent, traveling with Avianca, from the United States to Argentina.
The airline has just started flying to Chicago and Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) from Colombia and has strengthened its two regional operations bases in Peru and El Salvador. It has increased the daily frequencies to New York and Miami, inaugurated routes from Lima to Orlando and the Argentine city of Mendoza, or from San Salvador to Newark (New Jersey) and to Boston.
With these premises, the Colombian giant, one of the most consolidated brands of the Andean country on an international scale, seeks to fly higher starting in 2019. "Next year will be an important year. First we will be completely recovered from the strike, we will be 100 years old and finally we hope that the economy will help us ", summarizes the president. The goal is fixed. Now the trip is over, drive to the destination airport.