Crisis-hit Colombian airline Viva halts operations
Bogota, Feb 28 (EFE).- Crisis-hit Colombian budget airline Viva Air Colombia on Tuesday announced the immediate suspension of domestic and international flights, saying the civil aviation regulator is refusing to act expeditiously on its urgent request to merge with the Andean nation’s flagship carrier, Avianca.
The low-cost airline said in a statement that it took that step after Aeronautica Civil (Aerocivil) decided to include various third parties in the process of reviewing the proposed takeover.
Those third parties include JetSmart, a South American low-cost carrier controlled by US investment fund Indigo Partners and other Colombian and foreign companies.
“This unprecedented decision will result in further delays and forces Viva Air to announce the suspension of its operations with immediate effect,” the airline said.
The carrier said it has presented a host of evidence to Aerocivil showing that it is facing a critical financial situation and can only continue flying if it is allowed to become “part of a stronger and more well-capitalized group of airlines.”
Viva said that while its flights are grounded it will “continue negotiations with creditors … and will work to preserve its ability to restart operations at a future date, assuming Aerocivil immediately approves the pending alliance.”
The budget airline based at Jose Maria Cordova International Airport, which serves the northwestern city of Medellin, had already announced the cancellation of some domestic routes earlier this month.
Viva’s move Tuesday to halt all operations triggered protests at the Bogota and Barranquilla airports, where stranded would-be passengers demanded a solution and respect for their rights.
Upon learning of Viva’s decision, Aerocivil issued a statement assuring consumers it will especially work to ensure “respect for the rights of affected users.”
In November, Avianca and Viva Air Colombia filed an appeal after Aerocivil rejected their proposed merger on the grounds it would inhibit competition.
Among other arguments, the civil aviation authority said the tie-up would create a monopoly on 16 domestic routes.
But on Jan. 19, Aerocivil said procedural irregularities had marred the merger review and that it would restart the process.
The merger proposal calls for Viva Air Colombia to join Grupo Abra, a regional holding company that the main shareholders of Avianca and Brazil’s GOL created last year. EFE