In less than a month, Colombia lost two ultra-low-cost carriers, Viva Air and Ultra Air. Their ceases of operations created a decrease of 15% in the number of weekly operations and seats available departing from the South American country.
An impact on Colombia’s connectivity
On February 28, Viva Air announced its cease of operations after months of struggling financially and a painfully bureaucratic and slow merger process with Avianca. Of the two bankrupt Colombian airlines Viva Air was the largest by a mile.
In December 2022, Viva Air operated 942 weekly flights from Colombia, according to data from Cirium. It offered 169,560 seats or 180 per departure. These numbers made Viva Air Colombia’s third-largest airline behind Avianca and LATAM.
Most of Viva Air’s departures took place from Medellín International Airport (MDE) or Bogota El Dorado International Airport (BOG). Nearly 54% of all departures were from these two airports.
Viva Air still has a lingering hope of resuming operations. In the past few weeks, the Colombian government tentatively approved the merger between Avianca and Viva Air. Last week, Avianca requested minor changes to the approval while LATAM filed an appeal against the merger.
Nonetheless, if the merger goes through, one must question what Viva Air will fly from the ashes. Will it resume the international connectivity it was known for, or instead, it would focus on the domestic market? What size will its fleet be? What lasting impact will Viva’s cease of operation have on its public image? These are unanswered questions that may be resolved in the following weeks.
According to local newspapers, the final decision on Viva and Avianca’s merger is expected as soon as this Friday, April 14.
Ultra Air’s cease of operations
Nearly one month later, another Colombian carrier ceased operations, Ultra Air. This ultra-low-cost airline was smaller than Viva Air, only operating in the domestic segment with a fleet of six Airbus A320ceo family aircraft.
Ultra Air operated 464 weekly flights in December, making 83,520 seats available. It was the country’s fourth-largest airline by seats offered. Similarly to Viva Air, Ultra Air also had its main operating hub in Medellín International, where it operated 127 weekly departures. It was followed by Bogota, with 113 weekly departures.
This airline will not resume operations. It briefly had a Memorandum of Understanding signed with JetSMART. Still, the agreement was canceled after JetSMART received the approval to launch its own domestic branch in Colombia.
The most impacted airports
With Colombia losing about 15% of all departures and seats available versus December 2022, it is fair to look briefly at the impact of the country’s main airports. It is no surprise: Medellín was deeply impacted.
|Origin||Ops/Week Apr 2023||Seats
|Percentage Diff||Percentage Diff|
As seen here, Medellín, Santa Marta, and San Andrés Island had the largest impacts on their weekly operations. Santa Marta and San Andrés are two leisure destinations that ULCCs obviously served. Medellín was the hub of both Viva Air and Ultra Air. We will have to see how these airports adapt in the following months.
Daniel Martínez Garbuno is a Mexican journalist. He has specialized in the air industry working mainly for A21, a Mexican media outlet focused entirely on the aviation world. He has also published on other sites like Simple Flying, Roads & Kingdoms, Proceso, El Economista, Buzos de la Noticia, Contenido, and Notimex.