The Venezuelan capital airline, Gran Colombia de Aviacion SAS, has until next February to decide whether to accept the operating conditions imposed by the Aerocivil authority and to demonstrate to the authority that it can effectively meet its requirements. In August of last year, it registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Ibagué and in September Aerocivil authorized operations from the new air terminal at Perales airport and from Cali, as an alternate, which enables the airline to fly from either airport.
Initially, Gran Colombia would operate with five Fokker 50 and three Boeing 737-400. The aircraft will utilise Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport to cover international and national routes. They will fly to Valencia, Miami, Quito and Guayaquil, Panama and Costa Rica. It plans to operate 27 national routes which will cover many of the departmental capitals. Colombian pilots have been invited to interview, a selection process that began several months ago.
The operation seeks to connect the international airport of Cali with the terminals of Armenia, Ibague, Neiva, Pasto and Florence to connect the southwest, which, using regional airports, could reduce costs for travelers and avoid transit through the congested El Dorado Airport in Bogotá.
The Fokker, a smaller turboprop aircraft, will be used to transport passengers and cargo on regional flights, 12 destinations on 11 routes, which will cover the cities of Tumaco, Guapi, Pasto, Neiva, Bucaramanga, Barrancabermeja, Cartagena, Puerto Asis, Florence from Ibagué and Cali. The Perales de Ibagué airport is in the process of being expanded with an investment of US$ 64,000 million. According to initial plans, Gran Colombia de Aviación will make its inaugural flight from the new terminal.
The Avior Business Group has already successfully tested the strategy of operating from airports other than the capital of the country. Its main base of operations has been the José Antonio Anzoátegui International Airport in Barcelona with a secondary one at the Arturo Michelena International Airport in Valencia. From there Avior will coordinate their routes, placing it among one of the most important airlines in Venezuela.
Gran Colombiana de Aviación is part of the business group Avior - Aviones de Oriente - founded in 1994 to provide corporate transportation services to oil companies and tour operators in the eastern part of Venezuela. Three years later, in 1997, despite the oil boom, the company changed its business model, converting to a commercial airline. Currently, it is called Avior Airlines and it is by far the largest private equity airline in Venezuela in terms of fleet and destinations, with more than 1,800 employees nationally and internationally. In addition to the Fokkers and jet aircraft, its fleet includes six new Airbus 340-300 aircraft purchased for a value close to US$ 150 million.
Since 2015, Avior Airlines has undertaken an ambitious process of fleet and destination expansion that was interrupted by the Venezuelan financial crisis. Difficulties in repatriating foreign currencies, instability and failure to pay government payments led to nine international airlines canceling their routes to Venezuela in the last three years, including Avianca, which suspended operations in July of last year. This reduction in international flights made Avior the airline with the largest number of destinations outside of Venezuela, which are also the financial lifeblood of the company.
The president of the group, Jorge Luis Añez acknowledged that Avior has had to absorb within its cost structure, a permanent loss for the regulated prices of domestic journeys and the market prices of international tickets to be able to stay in business. Colombia is included in this strategy for international expansion.
In July 2015, after two years of management under Aerocivil scrutiny, Avior inaugurated its first route to Colombia, Valencia-Medellín. The authorization incurred significant debate, since Venezuela owes US$ 280 million to Avianca, for its operations in that market. The Colombian authorities had refused to authorize new airlines from Venezuela. However, after intense lobbying by the Venezuelan Ambassador in Colombia, Iván Rincón, the Colombian Foreign Ministry met with Aerocivil and concluded that it was necessary to give this alternative to passengers in the absence of airlines flying from Colombia to Venezuela. On January 22nd this year, operations were expanded from the Maiquetía International Airport in Caracas to Bogota and Medellin.
The profitability of this route has shown the wisdom of this strategy with Colombia, which will be their priority in 2018 after having been forced to suspend flights to Europe. In the Colombian Southwest they are counting the days to see the first flight of Gran Colombia de Aviacion in the air and resolve the service interruption since, following the pilots strike last year, Avianca inexplicably suspended direct routes from Cali, routing all flights with a stopover in Bogota with very high costs in time and money for users.