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Another fine mess you have got us in Stanley (Opinion)

Is this the prime airline that Gonsalves referred to when he told us that some great airlines would be flying into Argyle? Will this be our “Flag Carrier” airline? Will this be as good as it gets?

This is a new airline established in 2004, several bad records have held it back from being a success.

January 1997: Venezuela’s former flag carrier, Viasa, ceased operations after 37 years of service due to prolonged financial problems. The company totally collapsed under its financial losses.

May 2001: The idea to create a new flag carrier for Venezuela was proposed, but in December 2002, the project was put on hold until Oct. 1, 2003.

December 2002: The proposed formation of a new airline to be established in December 2002, never happened.

October 2003: The new Airline Company is formed.

March 30, 2004, the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, signed a decree that formally established the airline. This decree was published in the nation’s official gazette the next day.

November 28, 2004: Conviasa’s inaugural flight was made with a De Havilland Dash 7, a Canadian built aircraft. Flying from the airport in Charallave to the Santiago Marino International Airport on Margarita Island.

December 10, 2004: Conviasa formally began its national and international operations. Conviasa was originally run by the now defunct Ministry of Production and Commerce (Ministerio de la Producción y el Comercio), but it has since been taken over by the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Conviasa airline is an airline 80 per cent owned by the Government of Venezuela, 20 per cent owned the Venezuelan state of “Estado Nueva Esparta” [New Sparta State], which is one of the 23 states of Venezuela. It comprises Margarita Isalnd, Coche, and the largely uninhabited Cubagua.

The airline joins in the fruit of government subsidised aviation fuel, at only 18 U.S. cents a gallon, the cheapest in the world.

The government subsidises all fuel, petrol, diesel, aviation fuel, and cooking gas, to the tune of US$9 billion annually.

How we can be involved with such a heavily subsidised airline when our Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, has objected to a much smaller fuel subsidy, tiny in comparison, that the Trinidad government are making to its airline Caribbean Airlines. Should we get some advice from some big-knob barrister?

The airline has a poor trading record and only flies about 1,000 [2004, 2005, 2006] passengers internationally each week. For the same period they only flew about 5,000 passengers on internal flights each week.

When you consider the numbers against a population of about 30 million, that’s really poor by any standards. Their airline must lose money hand over fist, even with a 90 per cent fuel subsidy.

December 15, 2005: Conviasa flight 2600, a De Havilland Canada Dash 7 with 36 passengers and 4 crew members on board, was forced to make a belly landing at Porlamar’s airport when the landing gear failed to deploy. After circling Porlamar for an hour and a half to burn off fuel, the aircraft touched down without any injuries.

In 2007: Conviasa buys its largest plane in the fleet, a single, aging Airbus A340-200 (YV1004), originally built for Air France in 1993 (14 years old).

Aug. 30, 2008: A Boeing 737-200 took off from Caracas’s Maiquetia airport, Venezuela, and was bound to Latacunga, Ecuador, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Quito. Three crew members (a captain, a first officer and a mechanic) were on board. The plane crashed in mountainous area in Ecuador’s Andes, killing all the three people on board. The Boeing 737 had been stored for a while at Caracas. It was being ferried to Latacunga, reportedly underway to a new owner.

January 2009: Starting this month Conviasa airlines serve the following domestic destinations: Barcelona, Barinas, Caracas, Ciudad Bolivar, Elorza, El Vigia, La Fria, Las Piedras, Maracaibo, Maturin, Porlamar, Puerto Ayacucho, Puerto Ordaz, and San Fernando de Apuri.

For international destinations the airline now serves Damascus, Grenada, Port of Spain Trinidad, St. Vincent, and Tehran, Iran.

The airline has announced that it has shared code agreements with Iran Air, and Air Europa.

Sept. 13, 2010: Flight 2350, an ATR 42 – 300 (registration YV1010), with 47 passengers and 4 crew on board, crashed shortly before landing. It was a domestic scheduled passenger flight from Del Carib “Santiago Marino” International Airport, Porlamar, Isla Margarita to Manuel Carlos Piar Guayana Airport, Ciuda Guayana. There were 34 survivors and 17 fatalities.

September 2010, Conviasa suspended its domestic flights for a fortnight to allow safety checks after one of its planes, an ATR-42 turboprop, crashed in Venezuela, killing 17 people.

January 2012: President Hugo Chavez announced on his weekly television show that the Venezuelan government will soon purchase four Airbus A340-500 jets from Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways for $60 million each. [This never happened]

They have recently terminated direct flights to Iran due to no passengers, Ecuador due to political reasons, and Syria due to danger.

During 2012: Conviasa sell seats at a huge discounts to try and encourage business.

April 2012, Conviasa was banned from flying to 27 countries in the European Union because of safety concerns over its accident record and lack of information. It said that Conviasa failed to show it had taken adequate steps to prevent future accidents.

The airline’s only European destination was Madrid. Most of its flights are within Venezuela but it also flies to Bogata in Colombia, Buenos Aires, and several Caribbean islands.

A report by the European Commission said that the Spanish authorities found “numerous serious safety deficiencies” during inspections of Conviasa planes.

The report also cited two fatal accidents involving Conviasa flights, including one in 2010 that, according to news reports, killed 17 people. It said that Conviasa failed to show it had taken adequate steps to prevent future accidents.

Their fleet of aircraft are ageing. The average age of Conviasa’s fleet is 19.8 years.

1 ATR-42, 1 ATR-72 and 1 Boeing 737-300 have been out of service for

longer than a year.

Venezuela is exploring the purchase of Russian-built Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft for its long-haul missions.

July 31, 2012: It was announced today an agreement with Venezuela’s Conviasa Airlines for the sale of six Embraer 190 jets. The deal also includes 14 purchase options for the same aircraft model.

The value of the order, at list price, is USD 271.2 million, based on January 2012 economic conditions.

The first deliveries are scheduled to take place by the end of 2012 early 2013.

One thing for sure, this is not British Airways or Virgin, or American. Would you fly this airline, I don’t think so.

But with a fuel price of 18 cents a gallon, they should be able to put all other Caribbean airlines out of business, if only they could get it together. I am sure with the help and expert advice of Ralph Gonsalves they will do at least as well as SVG’s ailing economy.

TALK ABOUT THE BLIND LEADING THE BLIND

Peter Binose

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