Two U.S. regional carriers are largely prevailing as victors in a battle for survival as airlines globally continue to weather…
TBT (Throwback Thursday) In Aviation History: TACA/LASCA
TACA (Transportes Aereos del Continente Americano) was formed in 1931 when a New Zealand billionaire, Lowell Yerex, wanted to form a chain of airlines in Central and South America. Each airline started with Stinson aircraft and all planes proudly displayed the TACA brand. However, competition and a small market in most Central and South American countries quickly resulted in the collapse of multiple TACA brands, with TACA of El Salvador being the lone survivor.
TACA of El Salvador survived its difficult early years, and by the 1940s started to expand service with Douglas DC-3 and DC-4s being added to allow longer routes and increased passenger numbers. The 1950s saw the addition of the Vickers Viscount for both cargo movements as well as passenger use. The airline expanded to control more of Central America, while gaining ground against its nearby competitors such as AeroMexico and SAHSA (Honduras). The carrier slowly expanded further from El Salvador with its more northernmost point being Miami. TACA also started investing in other airlines in the region, such as AVIATECA of Guatemala and NICA of Nicaragua.
While TACA was confidently expanding and making a name of itself, another Central American company was slowly starting operation in Costa Rica. The airline was called LASCA or Lineas Aéreas Costarricenses S.A., and was formed by US powerhouse Pan American Airways in 1945 with the assistance of the Costa Rican government and multiple investors. The carrier started operating with a basic route map with flights from San José to Mexico City, Panama, Miami, Havana and the Cayman Islands. The primary goal was to arrange for all flights to lead to Miami, allowing passengers to transfer to Pan Am upon arriving in the United States. Flights were flown in Douglas DC-4s as well as Douglas DC-6s by the late 1950s.
TACA and LASCA would both enter the jet age with the same aircraft in the 1960s, the BAC 1-11. TACA inaugurated service in 1966 and LASCA followed one year later with flights to the Caribbean being flown on BAC 1-11s. The early 1960s also saw the removal of Pan Am from LASCA’s ownership group, with the government and private group Sansa becoming major shareholders. LASCA also started to expand, using their continued influence in the Cayman Islands to invest heavily in Cayman Airways, becoming their majority owner. The airline also started a rebranding to look more like an airline from Costa Rica, with the carrier’s colors becoming red and blue (Costa Rica flag colors) and the new logo’s “L” in LASCA being shaped to show the Costa Rican flag.
While LASCA was expanding, TACA was contracting. A civil war had broken out in El Salvador and in order to prevent a stoppage in service, the airline was sold to a New Orleans based company. The airline dumped the BAC 1-11s and revamped in the 1980s, with the Boeing 737-200 and eventually the Boeing 737-300 and 737-400 being introduced. Once the civil war had ended in El Salvador, TACA was turned back over to its original owner, the government of El Salvador.
In the 1990s, TACA again found itself again in a difficult position as most of the carriers they had invested in back in the mid 1900s were on the verge of bankruptcy. Fearing a drastic chain of events, TACA assumed majority ownership and merged them all into the TACA brand with the parent company becoming Grupo TACA. The airline continued its buying streak as it slowly began to take hold over LASCA throughout the 1990s, and finally earned a majority ownership in 1995. While some seemed surprised at the acquisition, the truth was that LASCA was struggling and needed funding to stay operational, which could be provided by TACA. The carriers continued to grow closer together until their official merger in 1999 with TACA retaining the surviving name. The airlines agreed to operate under the same name, and flights would be flown in the TACA livery.
The now merged TACA started flying to more destinations and expanding service as the carrier strengthened US service and started gaining traction with TACA Peru, beginning service in 2001. The airline was one of the larger investors to help get the Mexican carrier Volaris off the ground in 2005, and also became the first airline to fly the Airbus A321 in Latin America. In 2008, Grupo TACA began looking into a re-branding with all of its major airline mergers complete. The group agreed to bring back the carrier’s original name, TACA International Airlines, and also designed a new livery with the color maroon dominating the tail of the plane, replacing the previous navy colored tail. LASCA’s Airbus A320s were transferred to the main TACA fleet and LASCA was then given new Embraer ERJ-190s for their service.
One year after rebranding, TACA and Avianca announced that they were going to merge together and enter the Star Alliance. Avianca and TACA would merge fleets, while Avianca would become the surviving name. TACA’s Airbus A320s and A321s slowly started to be repainted into Avianca colors until eventually on May 20, 2013, TACA Flight 520 from San Salvador touched down at 11:50pm at Los Angeles International Airport, officially ending TACA. That night TACA signs were removed and all flights were switched to Avianca. LASCA’s flights were ended the month prior and all flights were re-branded to Avianca as well.
Since the merger, hints of TACA still exist in the world. Multiple Embraer and Airbus aircraft still wear the TACA maroon livery and operate on previous TACA routes. The LASCA hub at San José was disbanded in 2013 as Avianca re-branded, causing a rift in Avianca staff over whether or not San Salvador service would see decreased flights next. However, no cuts to the San Salvador schedule has been made and Avianca has stabilized. Both TACA and LASCA were large airlines that met their match with consolidation, yet also provided a unique experience as they quickly grew the under served Latin American market. While neither airlines’ name lives on today, their legacy will live on as Avianca continues its growth across the world.
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