“Robert Novell’s Third Dimension Blog”
Welcome back and thanks for letting me be a part of your week. This week we will talk about aviation in the country of Colombia. I have spent a lot of time in Colombia over the past ten years, and I now make it my home six months out of the year. I am often asked about the conflict with the guerillas, the cocaine, and the violence. My response is always the same —“The only problem Colombianos have are all of the gringos in North America, and elsewhere, who use cocaine. Colombianos don’t use cocaine. The guerilla war here is with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and the FARC is nothing more than a third cartel dealing in cocaine. You have the Medellin Cartel, the Cali Cartel, and the FARC; however, as a result of incresed pressure on all of the cartels, funded in part by the US, most of the distribution and violence has moved into Mexico and Peru is now the number one producer of cocaine not Colombia.” — The Colombianos are friendly, hard working, and well educated with the capital city of Bogota being a very diverse melting pot with a European flair. A great country with untold potential for growth; however, I am suppose to be talking about airlines and airplanes so let’s move forward with our story about Avianca who is the world’s second oldest operating airline, after KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and pioneered civil aviation in South America.
We have talked before about Pan Am being the airline chosen by the US Government to represent, protect, it’s interest internationally. This was especially true in Central and South America because the US needed to create a blocking force in South America to stop German expansion. The Panama Canal had to be protected and Colombia was a key piece in the puzzle.So how does the US control all of the moving pieces of the puzzle and protect the canal? They start an airline to meet the Germans head on and then they focus on making Colombia a strategic partner in their quest to protect the canal.
There is an interesting fact that needs to be revealed at this point. The US was a major player in helping Panama break away from Colombia in 1903 and now they want Colombia to help them protect Panama. Difficult position for both sides but they made it work.
Now, let’s talk about the airline that preceded Avianca – SCADTA.
The Germans with the help of an Austrian, named Von Bauer, formed the airline Sociedad Colombo-Alemana De Transportes Aereos (Air Transport Society of Colombia-Germany), SCADTA, in September of 1919. This was the spearhead, of the German airline penetration into South America.
SCADTA began scheduled service on September 19, 1921 between Barranquilla and Girardot. The continent of South America finally had a reliable airline and most historians agree that this is probably the most significant date in Latin American civil aviation; in addition, shortly after scheduled service began, SCADTA created a company to handle aerial photography, made possible by cameras smuggled from Germany, and one of this unit’s first project was to provide reconnaissance concerning a border dispute between Colombia and Venezuela near Cucuta.
SCADTA continued to grow and in 1925 they bought two twin-engined Dornier flying boats and began exploring opportunities for routes in the Caribbean. U.S. politicians blocked access to Miami and New York, ostensibly to prevent German interests from gaining a foothold in U.S. trade, but also likely due to the fact that the United States had yet to field an international airline of its own. One of the planes was shipped back to Germany and the other crashed the next year. SCADTA then looked south to start its first international passenger and airmail service, to Guayaquil, Ecuador, beginning in June 1928. This was extended to Panama City and Cristóbal in April the next year, tripling the airline’s route mileage. During this time, SCADTA began using the name Servicio Bolivariano de Transportes Aéreos in its marketing, referring to the great liberator of South America Simón Bolívar.
On February 23, 1929 the United States signed a bilateral air agreement, its first ever, with Colombia. Panagra, a partnership of Pan American Airways and the W.R. Grace shipping line, had started its own service from Miami to Panama City on February 3 with Charles Lindbergh piloting the inaugural flight in a Sikorsky S-38 flying boat. Panagra had stronger finances, more influence, and better equipment than SCADTA. Von Bauer signed a secret agreement with Pan Am president Juan Trippe in which SCADTA surrendered its international routes in exchange for an infusion of capital. Pan Am acquired 84.4 percent of the capital after a formal agreement was signed in February 1930 and SCADTA essentially became the Colombian part of the Pan Am network. Von Bauer resigned as president, and two U.S. citizens were added to the SCADTA board. In addition, new American and British made planes began appearing in SCADTA’s diverse fleet.
Although Von Bauer, alarmed at developments in Nazi Germany, had returned from retirement in Austria to lead the airline once again, the U.S. state department was pressuring Pan Am and the Colombian government to curb the German influence at the airline. On June 8, 1940 all 80 German employees were fired and the company was officially renamed Aeroví Nacionales de Colombia– “Avianca” –on June 14. Pan Am’s shareholding was reduced to 64 percent from 80 percent, and the Colombian government held 15 percent.
There is much more that could be said about our subject today but I think I will stop it here and let you do some research on your own. A good place to start is with a blog I wrote early this year – CLICK HERE. This link tells the story of Panagra which was the airline created by Pan Am to operate in Central and South America and control German expansion. Next week we will talk more about Avianca
Enjoy the photos below, have a good weekend, enjoy some time with friends and family, and be safe/fly safe.
August 3, 2012