MIAMI – Today in Aviation, VARIG Airlines (RG), Brazil’s first airline and leading carrier from 1965 until 1990, ceased operations in 2006.

VARIG can trace its history back to 1927 when the airline was founded by German aviator Otto Ernst Meyer-Labastille. Its first route, known as “Linha da Lagoa” (Lagoon’s Line), linked Porto Alegre, where its headquarters would be, Pelotas, and Rio Grande.

Over the years, the carrier expanded to become the largest airline in Latin America. It launched flights to the US on July 28, 1955, linking Rio de Janeiro with New York. The carrier then entered the jet-age in September 1959 with the arrival of the French-built Caravelle.

However, it was the arrival of the Boeing 747 that really signaled a new dawn for RG, when its first example arrive on February 12, 1981. For more than 20 years, RG was Brazil’s only international airline.

VARIG received its first Boeing 747 in 1981. (Photo: MilborneOne / modified by OAlexander, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Downward Spiral


But when Brazil’s air industry was deregulated in the 1990s, the carrier began to suffer. Unprofitable routes were cut and older aircraft were retired. A new livery was unveiled on October 15, 1996, and the airline joined the Star Alliance on October 22, 1997.

Entering the new millennium, RG was a shadow of its former self. With debts of US$118m, the airline filed for bankruptcy in 2005. So passionate were its employees that many even brought items from home such a coffee to provide to their passengers.

VARIG operated a fleet of 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-11s, one here on short final to Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2004. Photo: By Alan Lebeda – http://www.airliners.net/photo/Varig/McDonnell-Douglas-MD-11/0712665/L/, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21355396

Cease of Operations


But this passion could not save the airline. On July 20, 2006, the carrier ceased operations with just ten aircraft flying seven routes.

VARIG was judicially restructured in 2005, and the following year, it was separated into two companies: Flex Linhas Aéreas, informally known as “old” RG, heir to the original airline – now defunct, and “new” RG, a new firm fully integrated into Gol Airlines (G3).


Featured image: A Douglas DC 3 in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: By Christian Volpati – http://www.airlinefan.com/airline-photos/5812368/Varig/Douglas/DC-3/PP-VBF/, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22647338