Photo: Roberto Leiro

BARCELONA — Venezuela’s Avior Airlines (9V) has taken delivery of the first of six Airbus A340-300s, intended to fuel the expansion and growth plans of the carrier.

The aircraft (F-WTDH • MSN 199) arrived to the airline’s base located at General Jose Antonio Anzoategui Airport (BLA) last September 6 at 16:04 local (20:04 GMT), after a five-hour and a half flight from Galeao International Airport (GIG) in Rio de Janeiro. Before landing, the aircraft made an overflight at low altitude over BLA, greeting to those gathered on the ramp under heavy rain.

The jetliner overflew over Barcelona Airport before arrival. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)
The jetliner overflew over Barcelona Airport before arrival. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

After slowing down on runway 20, the widebody taxied down to the assigned position, where it received the traditional water cannon salute by the airport fire department.

The aircraft was welcomed by a heavy rain and the customary water cannon salute. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)
The aircraft was welcomed by a heavy rain and the customary water cannon salute. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

“The aircraft received two baptisms… one from the firefighters and a celestial,” said Gian Franco Farina, President of Regional Avior upon the arrival of the aircraft.

Avior’s First Widebody

In a press conference held before the ceremony, the president of Avior Group, Jorge Áñez Daher, emphasized the importance of the event for the history of the airline, as this is the first widebody the carrier takes delivery of since its foundation in 1994.

Jorge Áñez, President of Avior Group. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)
Jorge Áñez, President of Avior Group. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

The purchasing deal for these six widebodies was reached between Avior and Airbus Financial Services (AFS), with a US$150 million funding from an undisclosed financing entity.

Two months ago, the first of these jetliners flew from its storage in Tarbes (LDE) to Rio de Janeiro, where it underwent through an extensive “C” Check by TAP Maintenance & Engineering. Once certified by the Venezuelan Civil Aviation Authorities, this A340-300 will wear the registration YV3292.

“We are giving Venezuelans the possibility to travel abroad, and now, from next February, to the most important cities in Latin America and Europe,” said Áñez.

While Áñez declined to disclose the specific destinations, it was known that the first flights of this A340 will be between Barcelona and Miami, expected to start in November.

The entry into service of the aircraft in the route will boost Avior’s current seat capacity by 32% on the route, while allowing the crews to gain operational experience ahead of its long-haul operations to Europe and some destinations in Latin America (presumably Sao Paulo (GRU), Lima (LIM) and Buenos Aires (EZE).

Áñez remarked that the flights to Europe will not be carried out from BLA, due to operational and technical constraints in place. Instead, these will be from Caracas Simon Bolivar International Airport (CCS).

Despite this, Avior assures that passengers from Barcelona and other cities in Venezuela will have the required connectivity to Caracas, as the company is currently negotiating the acquisition of five additional Boeing 737-400s, that would allow the airline to both expand its short-to-medium haul destinations while increasing the frequencies on the existing routes to feed its long-haul routes departing from Caracas.

When asked about Avior’s potential European destinations, Áñez admitted that Rome is his “personal choice,” adding that at the present time, Avior Airlines is exploring several destinations such as Santiago de Compostela, Tenerife and Madrid in Spain, as well as Beirut in the Middle East.

Interestingly, all of these cities were previously served by the extinct Venezolana Internacional de Aviacion (VIASA).

“We are investing in substantial improvements, expanding our fleet, guaranteeing new frequencies and routes, expanding commercial horizons to destinations in America and Europe,” said José Sulbarán, president of Avior Airlines.

Sulbarán also confirmed to Airways that the second A340 will arrive to the country in January 2017, while the rest of the widebodies will be progressively added through 2018.

Taking a look to Avior’s First A340-300

Among the cheers and applauses of those present, and after an ecclesiastical blessing, the Board of Directors of Avior invited media staff to visit the plane, which has 255 seats arranged in three cabins (8 Premium Business Class, 28 in Business Class and 219 in Economy Class.)

Immediately after boarding, the blue color of the interior, inherited from Air China (CA), its previous operator, contrasts with the distinctive red livery of the airline.

The eight Executive Premium Class suites are arranged in a 1 + 2 + 1 layout, and boasts a seat pitch of 79 inches (200 cm) with 180° lie-flat seats. Each seat, an early version of the Zodiac Aerospace Aura model, has also a personal in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen, with AVOD and airshow capabilities.

The Business Class offers 28 seats —also a first generation of Zodiac’s Silverwing— arranged in a 2+2+2 abreast, and just like the Premium Business Class, it offers the same IFE and reclining lie-flat seat. The sole difference appears to be a narrower yet generous seat pitch at 58 inches (147.3 cm) seat pitch.

The Business Class cabin has a 2+2+2 layout. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)
The Business Class cabin has a 2+2+2 layout. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

The Economy Class cabin has 219 seats with a 2 + 4 + 2 standard cabin configuration  at 31 inches (78.7 cm) of seat pitch.

Although dated, the Economy Class cabin is in a good shape. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)
Although dated, the Economy Class cabin is in a good shape. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

While the seats do not have an individual IFE, the cabin has drop-down screens placed along the cabin.

What’s next for Avior Airlines?

If there is one word that describes Avior Airlines, this would be resilience.

During the last six years, Avior has experienced an exponential growth in its operations and fleet, moving on from a modest regional airline to one of the major airlines in Venezuela, with a relatively modern fleet, matching the one from SBA Airlines (S3), its most immediate and direct competitor.

Currently, Avior serves eight domestic destinations in Venezuela —Caracas, Barcelona, ​​Puerto Ordaz (PZO), Porlamar (PMV), Maracaibo (MAR), Valera (VLV), Barinas (BNS) and Valencia (VLN)— and eight international cities —Miami (MIA), Panama (PTY), Bogota (BOG), Medellin (MDE), Aruba (AUA), Curacao (CUR), Guayaquil (GYE) and Manaos (MAO)— maintaining Barcelona as its operational base.

Despite the optimism, the operation of a widebody —a first for the company— will represent a formidable challenge for Avior, both operationally and commercially speaking, specially in a country that has experienced a sharp drop in air travel demand calculated nearby 45%, and amid an exodus of foreign carriers leaving Venezuela after unsettled repatriation funds and upscaling operational costs.

No doubt, these are interesting days for Avior Airlines.