LACSA

Finally. LACSA is no More

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MIAMI, Florida–When the Avianca Airbus landed last January 13th in Miami International Airport, more than half a century (64 years to be exact) of air history came to an end. Finally LACSA Airlines in no more. When in 2009 Avianca and TACA Airlines decided to merge, the latter’s Costa Rican hub (once developed by LACSA Airlines since the 1980s) run the chance of being shut versus TACA’s El Salvador and Lima hubs and of course Avianca’s at El Dorado in Bogota. LACSA’s San Jose hub was developed since 1979 when the then Costa Rican flag carrier expanded its service to New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando  and Toronto in North America and Bogota, Lima, Quito, Guayaquil, Rio, Sao Paulo in South America. At that time LACSA’s slogan was: “Uniendo las Tres Americas” (Uniting the three Americas). Now Costa Ricans travelling to South America should use Avianca’s Bogota hub and for North America, the hub at El Salvador International Airport. Everybody hopes the vaccum left by Avianca would be filled up by the new Costa Rican airline Ticos Air that is expected to start flights on the first semester of 2014 with Airbus A-319s to cities like Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

Avianca suspended the last non-stop flight between San Jose and Miami last January 13th.
Avianca suspended the last non-stop flight between San Jose and Miami last January 13th.

The End of an Era

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–December 30th. At the age of 92 years, Captain Otto Escalante Wiepking died, closing a golden chapter of the Costa Rican Civil Aviation. He was only seven years old when Charles Lindbergh visited Costa Rica in the “Spirit of St. Louis” and since then he knew deep inside his life would be connected with aviation. In 1939 a young Otto Escalante graduates from highschool and a year later starts working for TACA Costa Rica in the cargo department. Once the United States joins the Allies in the Second World War, the American pilots flying in Latin America were all requested to join the armed forces, opening the possibilities for young latin men to become commercial pilots. Otto Escalante travels to the U.S. and in a year becomes a commercial pilot.  Escalante showed such professionalism, the United States Government gave him a scholarship at the Sky Harbour School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, Arizona. He returned to Costa Rica and works in several airlines like TACA Costa Rica and AVO. On March 12th 1948 he travels to Guatemala with Captain Guillermo Nuñez, flying two Douglas DC-3s. A day after Escalante and Nuñez returned to Costa Rica, the DC-3s heavy full of weapons and ammunition for Jose Figueres Ferrer’s National Liberation Army. In 1949 Otto Escalante returned to flag carrier LACSA and in 1960 he is appointed General Manager for the airline. Captain Escalante flew LACSA’s first jet in April 1967, a BAC-111-400 named “El Tico” and he kept working as a pilot until 1972 when he became CEO and President of the Board of Directors. Otto Escalante also founded Cayman Brac Airways (later Cayman Airways Ltd.) as a subsidiary of LACSA and was also SANSA’s President until he retired in 1989. Captain Escalante also served as a consultant for Aero Costa Rica S.A. (the other national airline that operated from 1992 to 1997). Today a great chapter of the civil aviation in this small nation is closed with a golden seal, that of a pioneer indeed.

Otto Escalante was LACSA's CEO and President until 1989.
Otto Escalante was LACSA’s CEO and President until 1989.

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.

The End of an Airline

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica– January 13th, 2014 will mark the official end of an airline. This time is for LACSA (Lineas Aereas Costarricenses S.A.) that was formed by Pan American World Airways in 1945 and was the Costa Rican flag carrier ever since. The airline was owned by the Costa Rican government and domestic investors until 1991 when Federico Bloch from TACA International Airlines purchased it and merged it into the TACA Group. Since  June 1950 LACSA operated a  flight between San Jose (the Costa Rican capital) and the city of Miami. For many years the flight numbers 620 and 621 were used to identify the San Jose-Miami-San Jose run. The route was operated with Curtiss C-46 and later Douglas DC-6B. The airline received its first jetliner, the British BAC-111-400, that was promptly used for the Miami route. Later on LACSA upgraded the fleet to the BAC-111-500 and in 1979 the airline received its first Boeing 727-200 Advanced brand new from the Seattle manufacturer. After LACSA was absorbed by TACA International the flights to Miami changed its recognized flight number, but kept being marketed with the LACSA two letter code: LR. On 2009 the TACA Group was merged into Colombian flag carrier Avianca. In May 2013 Avianca decided to shut down the original LACSA hub at San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, suspending all the non-stop flights from Costa Rica to the United States. The only flight that was kept was the Miami bound flight. In December 2013 Avianca decided to finally suspend the flight, thus ending 64 years of uninterrupted service between the Costa Rican capital and Miami. January 13th will be indeed the end of an airline. RIP.

LACSA operated the Douglas DC-6 from San Jose to Miami with an intermediate stop in Grand Cayman.
In the 1950s LACSA operated the Douglas DC-6 from San Jose to Miami with an intermediate stop in Havana, Cuba.

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.

New Costa Rican Flag Carrier

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Ticos Air will operate a fleet of Airbus A-319s.
Ticos Air will operate a fleet of Airbus A-319s.

SAN JOSE,Costa Rica–In 1945 Pan American World Airways founded LACSA (Lineas Aereas Costarricenses S.A.) that became the Costa Rican flag carrier. For several years LACSA controlled de Costa Rican market (domestic and international) as a true monopoly in the air. In 1992 Costa Rican entrepeneur, Calixto Chaves founded Aero Costa Rica S.A., breaking the monopolistic control of the skies by LACSA. Unfortunatelly the ill-managed airline only survived for five years. LACSA was purchased by the Salvadorian carrier TACA in the early 90s. In 2009 TACA was merged into the Colombian airline Avianca, thus ending the once proud Costa Rican flag carrier. But good news were given by Gino Renzi, the CEO of an airline founded in December 2012 as Ticos Air. In October 2013 Renzi announced Ticos Air would start services first quarter of 2014. Ticos Air will become the new flag carrier of Costa Rica. With a fleet of 5 Airbus A-319s the airline will operate from San Jose to Miami, Newark, Mexico City, Caracas and Havana.

The End Of LACSA’s Hub

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–AviancaTACA announced today the cancellation of five flights to the San Jose hub: Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Havana, Monterrey, Quito and Guayaquil.  Effective tomorrow passengers will need to use the El Salvador or Bogota hubs when flying from any of these cities (except Monterrey that is being totally cancelled). The Costa Rican airline LACSA started a flight connection hub in the late 1970s that included flights from Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York-JFK and Toronto. After the merger with TACA some of these cities were cancelled transfering the operations to El Salvador. WIth the merger of TACA and Avianca of Colombia, the Costa Rican hub will be minimized transfering most of the non-stop flights to El Salvador, Bogota and Lima.

The Juan Santamaria International Airport was the original LACSA hub since the late 1970s. After the merger with TACA and Avianca the hub will be minimzed.
The Juan Santamaria International Airport was the original LACSA hub since the late 1970s. After the merger with TACA and Avianca the hub will be minimzed.