TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: SAHSA

A SAHSA-TAN Boeing 737-200. (Photo: Torsten Maiwald [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

While the small Central American country of Honduras does not currently have a flag carrier, that was not always the case. Honduras’ original flag carrier was Servicio Aéreo de Honduras S.A., abbreviated to SAHSA, which formed in the 1940s to bring commercial service to the rural country. The original funding for SAHSA would be split between private investors, Pan American Airways and the Honduran government.

Due to the airline being associated with Pan Am, operations were limited to just inter-Honduras routes, but passengers could connect onto Pan Am flights for further destinations. Flights around Honduras finally began in 1945 with a Douglas DC-2. The airline would acquire two Douglas DC-3s as the route map was expanded.

Over time, the fleet grew to include larger aircraft, primarily Douglas DC-6s and Convair 440s as the airline started to fly to destinations outside of Honduras. Despite the new international service, the majority of new routes being to neighboring countries.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the aviation picture in Honduras rapidly changed. SAHSA CEO Oswaldo López Arellano would become a two-term president of Honduras. As a political leader and businessmen, he made the most of trying to protect his investment. The Honduran government would pour extra resources into SAHSA to allow for any additional expansion and would pass laws banning foreign carriers from flying into Honduras, leaving Honduras with just local carriers SAHSA and TAN to operate all of the country’s flights.

Due to the corruption caused by Arellano’s presidency, Pan Am would drop their stake in SAHSA and distance themselves from the carrier. The 40 percent stake that Pan Am had dropped would be assumed by TAN, although the two carriers would operate separately until the 1980s, TAN and SAHSA operated under one parent company.

With no competition, SAHSA-TAN’s fleet expanded to include the Boeing 737-200 and Boeing 727-200 jet aircraft as well as include their first destinations in the United States. The southern U.S. cities of New Orleans and Miami were the first to join the route map in 1974.

While the carrier enjoyed strong results with no competition in the early 1970s, the barriers that were set in place to protect SAHSA-TAN would come crashing down in 1975. A backdoor deal between Arellano and United Brands Company triggered a military coup that would see Arellano removed from power. With Arellano gone, the country reopened airspace for foreign airlines.

This was the beginning of a slow decline for the flag carrier of Honduras. SAHSA and TAN would officially brand themselves into one airline in 1980 with the hopes of saving money as the airline was losing the war between foreign carriers.

The carrier would only continue the downward trend as a string of accidents and hijackings in the 1980s would damage the airline’s reputation. Meanwhile, neighboring carriers were succeeding, with TACA of El Salvador and Aviateca of Guatemala seeing increasing loads and route maps in the 1980s. To make matters worse, a new airline, titled Isleña Airlines, joined the fray in Honduras.

While the airline was being funded by the government, executives at SAHSA were repurposing the money for personal gain while the airline floundered. The corruption in the airline’s management and the poor safety record SAHSA had grown lead them to be banned from countries, especially the United States.

With a disappearing route map and increasing debt, SAHSA would suspend operations in 1993 in hopes of restructuring and re-establishing themselves as Honduras’ flag carrier. However, the airline was never given the chance and SAHSA was officially terminated from operating in 1994.

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