MIAMI – Aeropostal Alas de Venezuela (VH) ceased operations last Sunday, putting 88 years of history to an end.
The carrier, established in 1929 by the Compagnie Génerale Aeropostale, was the first Venezuelan commercial carrier and one of the oldest carriers in Latin America, just behind Avianca (AV) and LATAM Airlines Chile (LA).
Initially based in Maracay, the airline moved operations in the late 1940s to Caracas Simón Bolívar Airport (CCS), where it was based ever since.
The carrier was among the pioneers in long-haul flights between Venezuela and Europe, and it was the de facto Venezuelan flag carrier until the foundation of Viasa (VA) in 1961 when the former began to serve domestic and short-to-medium haul international routes.
Aeropostal Alas de Venezuela took the commercial name of Aeropostal after the demise of the original corporation, Línea Aeropostal Venezolana in 1994. In 2008, the government led by President Hugo Chávez took control of the carrier. After a brief recovery, it began to stall with growing debts and a progressive decrease in routes and capacity amid constant changes in its board of directors.
In a memorandum issued by INAC, the Civil Aviation Directorate in Venezuela informed the decision to suspend operations, as the last aircraft in service, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, is due to enter into a major service, and the cash-strapped airline is unable to cover the expenses of such works.
At the date of its demise, Aeropostal had four ex-Alitalia (AZ) MD-82s in its fleet, now all of them grounded, waiting for maintenance in the company’s premises in Caracas.
The Venezuelan air travel industry is at its worst moment ever. Since 2014, international carriers began to pull out of the Latin American country due to the impossibility to settle their income in foreign currency. According to IATA, the sum of the unsettled balance nears 3.8 billion dollars trapped in a legal limbo, with little or no chance to retrieve anytime soon.
Domestic carriers are not exempt of these turbulent times. The scarcity of foreign currency due to the drop in oil prices and the failure of different control exchange mechanisms in place since 2003 have caused several airlines to ground parts of its fleet.
Some others have attempted to open international routes and reduce the domestic services to basic levels, to lessen the exposure to financial risk and avoid a fate similar to Aeropostal’s.