MIAMI – This week, Spanish flag carrier Iberia (IB) marked the 75th anniversary of its first flight to Latin America, its primary market.
Latin America has been the focus of IB’s whole strategy in recent years, establishing Madrid as the central crossroads between Europe and Latin America, transforming it into the old continent’s main gateway.
On September 22, 1946, an Iberia Douglas DC-4 took off from Madrid’s Barajas Airport (MAD) bound for Buenos Aires, marking the start of the first regular flights between Europe and Latin America. Madrid-Villa Cisneros-Natal-Montevideo-Buenos Aires was the route of those first flights. A journey of 36 hours, including stops.
Since then, the airline has continued to operate the region without interruption, demonstrating its commitment “in both good and bad times,” as noted in the carrier’s celebratory press release.
The Douglas DC-4
When WWII ended and the political and economic circumstances in Spain permitted it, IB had already established the basic operating principles to allow the expansion of its service network.
The founding of the first transatlantic route was one of the airline’s most immediate goals, which was an enormous challenge at the time due to the numerous restrictions imposed after the war and, above all, by the country’s situation.
To that end, in January 1945, while the world was still at war, the carrier signed a contract with Douglas for the purchase of three new DC-4 aircraft (Skymaster) at a cost of US$400.000 each. The contract included a payment plan, allowing the IB to tackle a significant international network expansion, a clear goal for IB.
At the time, the DC-4 became the exponent of the advancement of aeronautical technology. It was the first aircraft to hold integral fuel tanks allowing two of the cabin tanks to be removed and giving space for 49 seats (or 16 stretchers) to be fitted.
Its design also included a tricycle landing gear with retractable wheels that were stored in locked compartments and a constant-separation fuselage. With the DC-4, IB was set to cross the Atlantic.
Iberia’s First Transatlantic Flight
With the arrival of the new DC-4s, IB launched its first transatlantic flight to Buenos Aires, with stops in Villa Cisneros (then considered the best natural airport in the world, located in the Sahara Desert), Natal, and Rio de Janeiro. The first flight, though without paying passengers, took off from MAD on September 22, 1946.
The delegation on board included the company’s president, Jess Rubio Paz; managing director, César Gómez Luca; the director-general of civil aviation, Juan Bono; and a committee from the Ministry of Commerce. In total, 28 people were on the flight to Buenos Aires, including IB maintenance and commercial technicians.
Following the stop in Villa Cisneros, the journey continued through the night, arriving in Natal, Brazil, at 10:00 am local time on September 23.
The following morning, the DC-4 took off for Rio de Janeiro, an unscheduled stop. When the aircraft arrived on the Brazilian coast, a mantle of clouds had engulfed the city from the north of Rio to Sao Paulo, forcing the DC-4 on a holding pattern until it finally passed through when its fuel had nearly run out.
In the morning of September 25, after 36 hours of flight time and more than two days of travel, the first IB flight to Latin America continued its journey to Buenos Aires, arriving late in the afternoon west of the city at a Morón Airport (MOR), which was filled with crowds.
Line 1215 was established on October 15 with a regular schedule every ten days, which was changed to weekly in May of 1948, thereby consolidating the route. The first commercial flight was piloted by José Mara Ansaldo and Fernando Rein Loring, two legendary figures in Spanish commercial aviation.
Iberia Celebrates its Latin American Connection
To commemorate the occasion, the Spanish flag carrier held an event on the day of its maiden Buenos Aires flight at Casa de América. The Secretary of State for Iberoamérica, representatives from regional embassies and Madrid’s city hall, as well as personalities from Latin American culture and sport were in attendance.
The airline has been rebuilding its Latin American flight schedule and it is set to offer more than 200 weekly direct flights to 17 destinations in 15 countries during the winter season.
Throughout the pandemic, the carrier has maintained connectivity between Spain and Latin America, flying more than 60 repatriation flights.
Featured image: Crew of the inaugural Iberia service to Buenos Aires in 1946 with the Douglas DC-4 used for the flight. Photo: Iberia. Article source: Grupo Iberia