Avianca is an 'unfortunate casualty' of COVID-19

Avianca is an 'unfortunate casualty' of COVID-19

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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MINISTER of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says that Avianca Airlines is an unfortunate casualty of the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry, especially in the Caribbean region.

“I have had discussions in the past with the airline regarding air connectivity to Jamaica, as a part of our South American marketing push. They are a key pillar of the overall strategy, particularly utilising the Bogotá hub.

“We are hopeful that the airline will be rescued and resume in whatever new configuration is appropriate, to continue the energies of travel and tourism post-COVID,” Bartlett said on Monday.

He was responding to news that the Colombian airline Avianca filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US Southern District of New York on Sunday, blaming its collapse on the “unforeseeable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic”, according to a company statement.

Avianca, which was founded in 1919, claims to be the world's second-oldest continuously running airline. As of the end of last year, it was the third-largest airline in Latin America based on market share, after Chile's LATAM Airlines and Brazil's GOL Linhas Aéreas, according to Euromonitor.

The carrier is also part of the Star Alliance, the industry group that includes other big players such as Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. Last year, a holding company affiliated with United Airlines bought a majority stake in Avianca.

Bartlett recalled that two years ago he and other local tourism officials wrapped a South American tour, which took them to Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Colombia, to introduce new flights and open up key markets.

The increasing number of tourists from the South American continent helped established Avianca as a major airline in the region.

Among the successes of that tour, he said, was Copa Airlines increasing service into Jamaica, from seven flights per week to 11, and the continent's largest airline, LATAM, starting three weekly flights between its Lima, Peru, hub and Montego Bay.

On December 3 last year, the inaugural LATAM flight departed Lima for Montego Bay. A welcome party, including Bartlett and local stakeholders, along with diplomatic officials from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru, was on hand to receive the full flight of 174 passengers.

In 2019, 38,885 visitors from Latin American visited Jamaica, representing a 14.6 per cent increase over the 33,922 who came in 2018.

Avianca was close to following soon with non-stop flights between Bogotá and Montego Bay, which was a key outcome of the April 2018 meeting between Bartlett and Avianca Airline executives at their Bogotá headquarters.

Avianca's passenger operations have been grounded since March because of COVID-19. It said the pandemic had cut more than 80 per cent of its income, and it was struggling with high fixed costs. If it fails to come out of bankruptcy, Avianca will be the first major airline to go under amid the pandemic.

— Balford Henry

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