TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: AIRES Colombia

An AIRES Colombia 737-700 (Photo: Nicop (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

As the 1980s rolled around, the Colombian market was cluttered with various smaller carriers hoping to dethrone the national flag carrier, Avianca. One of those airlines was the small domestic carrier, Aerovias de Integracion Regional SA, also known as AIRES Colombia. The carrier started operations out of their hub in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city , in 1981.

AIRES commenced operations with a handful of regional propeller planes to get them off the ground. The airline ordered a half-dozen Bombardier DHC-8-100s to take over service, with deliveries starting in the mid-1980s. With the newly-acquired regional aircraft, the airline was able to service the Colombian domestic market.

AIRES remained steady throughout the 1990s, however, the rise of AeroRepública in 1992 meant that they had a new competitor in the Colombia market. The airline made small expansions, mostly adding service to the neighboring countries of Venezuela and Ecuador.

The slow expansion continued into the early 2000s until the airline shifted strategies halfway through the decade. AIRES was looking to take advantage of the bankruptcy and restructuring of AeroRepública, placing an order for larger propeller aircraft, the Bombardier DHC-8-200 and DHC-8-400, to replace the current, aging fleet. Deliveries for the DHC-8-200 started in 2007 and the DHC-8-400 followed in 2010.

However, soon after ordering the Bombardier fleet, AIRES decided to also enter the jet age. The airline placed an order to take hold of 10 used Boeing 737-700s, with deliveries beginning in 2009. With the new propeller and jet aircraft in the fleet, AIRES expansion exploded with new service to Peru, Mexico, and the United States.

However, the massive increase in service didn’t go unnoticed as investors starting looking to AIRES as a potential way to gain control of Avianca’s stronghold over Colombia. This, coupled with a string of incidents in 2008 and 2010 that saw the airline lose two DHC-8-200s and a Boeing 737-700 to accidents, saw AIRES being open to talks about a possible takeover.

A deal was made in 2010 with LAN Airlines to allow for the Chilean carrier to buy a 98% stake in the Colombian airline and assume full control of AIRES. The deal was approved on October 28, 2010, and LAN soon after announced that AIRES would be rebranded to LAN Colombia to allow for brand familiarity with their other carriers.

Slowly, the fleet of Boeing 737-700s and Bombardier DHC-8s were transitioned from the AIRES light green and blue to LAN’s blue and white livery, with the AIRES brand completely gone by 2011. However, the AIRES fleet didn’t match that of the LAN fleet. Gradually, between 2013 and 2015, the former AIRES fleet would be removed from the LAN Colombia fleet in favor of 10 Airbus A319s and 13 Airbus A320s.

As of today, that fleet of 23 aircraft fly under the name LATAM Colombia, following the merger of LAN Airlines and TAM Linhas Aéreas. The airline operates a similar schedule to the original AIRES schedule, the only change being that Fort Lauderdale service was dropped in favor of Miami since the other LAN branches operate in and out of Miami International Airport.

The airline’s quest to topple Avianca as Colombia’s national airline failed. To this day Avianca remains Colombia’s national flag carrier.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry