Air Panama into the Major Leagues

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PANAMA CITY,Panama–After becoming the sole domestic airline, Air Panama is ready to expand its wings and move into the “Major Leagues” of the airline business. On August 2013  the airline received one Boeing 737-300 and another on October adding to the existing fleet of regional jets Fokker 100s and a Fokker 70. It is expected Air Panama to announce in the next months the new international routes but is rumored the 737s will be used for flights to San Jose, Costa Rica; several cities in Colombia, Miami and also the Cayman Islands. Flights to other Central American cities are a possibility. As of June 2013, the airline is awaiting the approval of both the Panamanian and Caymanian aeronautical authorities for these scheduled passenger flights. After the demise of Air Panama International in 1990, the name was unused until in 2006 when PARSA (the original name of Air Panama), adopted the iconic name. Air Panama operates from both Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport (Albrook) and Tocumen International Airport.

Air Panama's Boeing 737-300s arrives in San Jose International Airport. The airliner will be painted with Air Panama's livery at Coopesa.
Air Panama’s Boeing 737-300s arrives in San Jose International Airport. The airliner will be painted with Air Panama’s livery at Coopesa.

The Salvadorian Start-up

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador–For decades the airfares between the Central American capitals and most important cities have been as expensive or even more than a ticket to Miami, New York or Los Angeles. The Central American airlines of the 1970s like Aviateca, TACA International Airlines, SAHSA, TAN, LANICA, Aeronica, LACSA and COPA had almost an understanding of charging the same fares. In the 1990s when TACA International Airlines purchased the ill-managed Aviateca, SAHSA and LACSA, its merged consortium knowned as GRUPO TACA practically monopolized the intra-Central American market. Fares from San Salvador to Panama City could be as high as $500.00 and fares from San Jose to Guatemala City could be as high as $400.00. In 2009 when TACA Airlines and Avianca announced the merger between the two carriers, it was clear that the monopolistic practices of  the Central American market were going to be extended way beyond Colombia. In 2013 a group of entrepeneurs in El Salvador announced the creation of the first Low Cost Carrier (LCC) in the region under the name of VECA (Vuelos Economicos Centro Americanos). The airline is expected to operate from Comalapa International Airport (45 minutes away from San Salvador) to the capitals of Central America and important cities like San Pedro-Sula in Honduras and Liberia in Costa Rica. The airline will operate modern Airbus A-319s and will break the supreme monopolistic hold of both Avianca (the former TACA Airlines) and COPA Airlines, both carriers members of Star Alliance. In cities of the United States with high density Salvadorian population such as Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Houston the news of the Salvadorian start-up has been welcomed with enthusiasm. What is not clear yet is if VECA Airlines will ever spread its wings from El Salvador to the U.S. The airline is expected to start services in the first quarter of 2014.

VECA Airlines modern logo uses the colours of the Salvadoran flag.
VECA Airlines modern logo uses the colours of the Salvadorian flag.

Central American Airline Cemetery

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Aerolineas Nicaraguenses S.A. (Aeronica) has been the only Central American carrier to operate the Soviet built Tupolev TU-154M.
Aerolineas Nicaraguenses S.A. (Aeronica) has been the only Central American carrier to operate the Soviet built Tupolev TU-154M.

SAN JOSE,Costa Rica–The airline cemetery in Central America is quite full now. The airline industry has changed dramatically since it was born in the 1930s in the Isthmus. Guatemala used to have airlines like AeroQuetzal, TikalJets and flag carrier Aerolineas de Guatemala (AVIATECA). The latter was absorbed by TACA International Airlines. Honduras had several carriers, Transportes Aereos Nacionales (TAN), Servicio Aereo de Honduras (SAHSA) and SOL Air. Nicaragua had Lineas Aereas de Nicaragua (LANICA) that folded its wings in 1980. The Sandinista regime created Aerolineas Nicaraguenses S.A. (AERONICA) that also closed in the 1990s. TACA International created Nicaraguense de Aviacion (NICA) that was also absorbed into GRUPO TACA in 1998. Costa Rica has been the Central American nation with the most airlines; Empresa Nacional de Transporte Aereo (ENTA), Lineas Aereas Costarricenses (LACSA), RANSA, SANSA, Vuelos Especiales Liberianos (VEL), Aero Costa Rica S.A. (ACORISA) and Aeropostal Alas de Centro America. ACORISA operated for five years and folded its wings in September 1997. LACSA and SANSA were fully absorbed by GRUPO TACA in 1998. Panama has had several airlines too; PAISA, Air Panama International, Aeroperlas and Compañia Panameña de Aviacion (COPA). Aeroperlas was purchased by GRUPO TACA and suspended operations in 2012. Air Panama International also folded its wings after Noriega was deposed, but a new domestic airline was formed using the same name. Finally El Salvador has had only one international airline; Transportes Aereos Centro Americanos (TACA International Airlines). The airline originally was founded in Honduras in 1931 but became the Salvadorian flag carrier. In the 1990s TACA bought the flag carriers of Central America and in 2009 it was merged into Colombian airline AVIANCA.  The disappearance of all these airlines and flag carriers has created the need of new start-ups. For 2014 two new airlines will appear in Central America: LCC Salvadorian airline Vuelos Economicos Centro Americanos (VECA) and Costa Rican flag carrier TICOS AIR.