Viva Air suspends Colombia operations

Viva Air Airbus A320. Photo: Ricardo Martinelli/

The Colombian low-cost carrier Viva Air suspended all operations in the country on Tuesday leaving thousands of travelers stranded in major airports, including Bogotá’s El Dorado and Medellín’s José María Córdova. Angry passengers attempted to block the entry gates to the security zone inside El Dorado resulting in delays to departing national and international flights.

In an official statement by the airline, Viva Air cites that a “critical financial situation” forced creditors and the airline’s leasing company to return aircraft, after a seven-month long delay by the country’s Civil Aeronautics to approve a merger with Avianca.

“The Colombian Government has privileged the interests of airlines managed from Argentina, Chile, Panama and the United States, over Viva itself,” highlights the statement.

“Today, Civil Aeronautics issued a communication acknowledging the interests of various third parties regarding Viva’s urgent request to allow its integration with a stronger and larger group of airlines. This unprecedented decision will result in further delays and forces Viva Air to announce the suspension of its operations with immediate effect.”

Viva Air returned seven Airbus A320s over the last several weeks – a third of its fleet – to drum-up revenue pending approval of the Avianca merger. The low-cost airline was also forced t suspend routes to key domestic destinations such as San Andrés, Leticia, Cali, and Cartagena.

In a statement released by Avianca, the country’s largest carrier reiterated “its total willingness to seek, together with the National Government, viable and urgent alternatives that facilitate objective scenarios to be part of the solution.”

The airline also warned the government of President Petro that the low-cost business model in Colombia is at risk, as well as, “thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of airline tickets, a dynamic aeronautical market, and benefits for communities through direct and indirect related services.”

The suspension of Viva’s operations in Colombia, also puts at risk “the democratization of tourism, the loss of substantial public resources due to debts of close to US$ 20 million that the Colombian State has guaranteed to Viva and, most importantly, the continuation of connecting regions that see in aviation a hope for development and social welfare,” claims the company.

From the start of the merger request by Viva Air and Avianca, the government claimed that the two airlines could concentrate the low-cost market, and harm competition from low-cost carriers operating in the country, among them Wingo and Ultra Air.

According to news outlets, Viva Air’s debts amount to COP$4 billion, or US$830 million. The company has 5,000 staff, more than half based in the country’s second largest city, Medellín. In early February, Viva Air initiated a Business Recovery Process (PRE) within the protection status of decree 560/2020. With delays to the restructuring process and access to capital based on the government’s approval of the merger, the airline’s CEO Félix Antelo resigned.