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Avianca Makes Major Progress in A320 Retrofits

An Avianca A320 in Miami (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Avianca, the largest airline in Colombia, was hit hard early during the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline was already in a precarious financial situation leading up to the pandemic with over $7 billion in debt. The complete suspension of operations during the Colombian government’s lockdown is what tipped the airline over the edge.

The airline declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 10, 2020, right as the world was shutting down. It was a tense time for everyone and this was one of the largest airline bankruptcies that could be directly attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It took the airline 18 months to work through its financial restructuring process and emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. One of the key tenets of the restructuring was a simplification of the fleet and an increase in capacity on narrowbody aircraft at the expense of business class.

Fleet Changes

The long-haul fleet is now exclusively Boeing 787 aircraft, the carriers Airbus A330 variants were all retired between 2020 and 2023. The 787 will retain business class seating.

The short-haul fleet, which almost entirely consists of Airbus A320 aircraft, started undergoing retrofits sometime in early 2022. The goal of the reconfiguration was to increase capacity by 20 percent by reducing seat pitch and removing business class.

A320 family aircraft now consist of three rows of Premium seats in a 2×2 configuration, ten rows of Plus seating, and then the remainder of the aircraft being economy seating. The Premium seats will have headrests, device holders, and USB ports along with the ability to recline.

Avianca’s Premium seat (Photo: Avianca)

Plus seats will also feature the same amenities, but in a 3-3 configuration and less legroom.

Avianca’s Plus seat (Photo: Avianca)

Economy seats have an average pitch of 29’’ in a 3-3 configuration with seats that do not recline.

Avianca’s Economy seat (Photo: Avianca)

Avianca recently announced that it has reconfigured 104 Airbus A320S with the new interiors in-house with the help of over 1,500 technicians in less than two years. This process is going to continue with the remaining aircraft that feature the old interior. The airline is especially proud of this achievement given labor and supply chain shortages around the world.

Looking Ahead

Given the new high-density configurations, it seems apparent that the airline is seeking to implement a no-frills approach to flying. The airline now offers various fare structures and ancillary purchases that passengers can select to go beyond the simple economy experience.  The new focus on economy class seating could suggest yielding challenges the airline could’ve faced in the past.

It makes sense given Avianca and low-cost carrier GOL now operate under the same holding company; the Abra Group. The operating environment in Latin America is also filled with low-cost carriers that make it challenging to operate with full-service airline fares.

The airline seems to have emerged from bankruptcy with a clear strategy. Alongside the focus on reconfiguration of aircraft, Avianca has also made significant additions to its route network. Just recently the airline launched new routes, including a dozen to the United States, along with the resumption of multiple routes that the airline had previously served prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Latin America is a battleground for low-cost carriers and it appears that Avianca is gearing up for the fight.

Hemal Gosai

Author

  • Hemal Gosai

    Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.

    View all posts

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