MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Viação Aérea São Paulo, better known as VASP, was founded in 1933 by the state government of Sao Paulo, Brazil. VASP’s head office was located in the VASP Building on the grounds of São Paulo–Congonhas Airport (CGH) in São Paulo.
The airline had its bases at São Paulo’s two major airports, CGH and Guarulhos International Airport (GRU). The airline started operations on 12 November 1933. CGH was popularly known as Campo da VASP (VASP’s airfield) during its early years.
VASP was the first airline to serve the interior of the state of São Paulo with two Monospar ST-4. At the start of the 1930s, it was the only carrier to operate with land planes in their service area.
The Beginning: 1930s-1950s
In the 1930s, the VASP service was a real undertaking due to the lack of suitable non-coastal airports. Many landing strips were improvised in flat pastures. In 1936, this emphasis on using only ground aircraft led to the construction of one of the most important airports in the world, CGH, located in the city of São Paulo, far from the coast.
VASP acquired Aerolloyd Iguassu in 1939, which also included a license to operate flights to Paraná and Santa Catarina states. When it acquired Lóide Aéreo Nacional, and with it its license to operate nationally, VASP became a national airline in 1962.
VASP, Cruzeiro do Sul and Varig launched an air shuttle service between CGHf and Rio de Janeiro-Santos Dumont on July 6, 1959, the first of its kind worldwide. The three firms synchronized their timetables, events, and mutual income in direct competition with Real Transportes Aéreos.
The idea inspired by the Berlin Airlift and dubbed Air Bridge (Ponte Aérea in Portuguese), was so popular that it was abandoned as late as 1999. The flights were initially operated by Convair 240 (Varig), Convair 340 (Cruzeiro), and Saab 90 Scandia (VASP) on an hourly basis.
The Mismanagement: 1960s-1990s
The shuttle service led by Varig took over Real’s in a matter of a few months, with the former ultimately acquiring the latter in 1961. In 1968, Sadia Transportes Aéreos joined the service. It was run between 1975 and 1992 exclusively by Varig’s Lockheed L-188 Electra, which did not have the name Varig on the fuselage for some time and for the sake of neutrality.
While it had been relatively well managed as a state-owned enterprise for much of its existence, by the 1980s, for political reasons, VASP was plagued by inefficiency, losses covered by state capital injections, and a bloated payroll. Under the newly adopted neoliberal policies of the Brazilian government at the time, VASP was privatized in 1990. The VOE/Canhedo Group, a company founded by Brasília’s Canhedo Group and VASP employees, purchased a majority stake.
VASP rapidly expanded operations in the country under the direction of its new owner and president, Wagner Canhedo, establishing international routes in the process. Before VASP entered the international market, Varig had been Brazil’s only international airline since 1965.
The Fall: 2000-2008
Nevertheless, after several years of mismanagement, financial losses, soaring debt, and bad credit, all of its overseas activities were canceled in 2002 to focus on the domestic market. At that time, VASP had fallen from second to fourth in the Brazilian airline market, operating an aging fleet of Boeing 737s (most of them the obsolete −200 series) and Airbus A300s.
The business faced its worst crisis in 2004 with the advent of new airlines in the region, which resulted in the suspension of service to several Brazilian cities and the cessation of flights. As a result, its domestic market share was reduced to a mere 10%.
On January 27, 2005, the then civil aviation regulator of Brazil, DAC, decommissioned the airline from operating scheduled services pending a financial inquiry. Until April 2005, VASP was permitted to operate charter services, giving it the opportunity to prove its financial stability in order to keep its air operator certificate.
By December 2007, the airline had finally stopped flying, limited to supplying other airlines with maintenance services. Despite VASP’s rut, its maintenance skills and employees were still held in high regard. Since July 2006, it has been functioning under the new Brazilian bankruptcy law, and its recovery plan was approved on August 27, 2006. Alas, it declared bankruptcy in 2008.
The End: 2020
As of October 2020, nine of the company’s aircraft (seven Boeing 737-200s and two Airbus A300s) have been stationed at CGH since 2005 and are now badly weathered and dilapidated. Currently, the aircraft have started to be dismantled and sold at auction for scrap.
It was estimated that each aircraft in its current state was worth just 30,000 to 50,000 reals (US$20,000 to US$33,000), far less than even its monthly parking and storage fees. Since 2005, the company’s fleet of 27 aircraft has also been grounded at various Brazilian airports under similar circumstances.
Featured image: VASP operated the NAMC YS-11 from 1969. The aircraft is arriving at Rio de Janeiro-Santos Dumont Airport in 1972. Photo: Wiki Commons. Article sources: Instituto Histórico-Cultural da Aeronáutica (2014). História Geral da Aeronáutica Brasileira: de janeiro de 1956 a dezembro de 1966 da posse do Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira até as vésperas da Reforma Administrativa, Flight International 26 March 1970.