Rather than civil war Wikipedia talks of an 'asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict' which perhaps goes someway to hint at the underlying complexities of Colombia's recent history; with multiple armed groups fighting central government, with corruption and kidnapping rife and it all fuelled by narcotics production and trafficking. Suffice to say an exploration of Colombia's recent past is out of scope here, however throughout the entire period the world's second oldest operating airline Avianca has continued to carry passengers.
Avianca was a Boeing customer for all its jet equipment from 1960 until 1991 when its first McDonnell Douglas MD-80s arrived on lease. Therefore it is not surprising that the 727 was a natural choice for its domestic and regional routes, especially as the type had proven itself well equipped for operations in challenging environments like South America. Avianca began jet operations with a leased Pan Am 707-121 and acquired its own Boeing 720s in 1961 and 1965 for a fleet of three of the type. The new 727s began to arrive in 1966.
Avianca was undergoing a major fleet upgrade and expansion at the time which would also see a pair of new 707-320Bs and a pair of 737-100s arrive in 1968. The first 727-059 was registered, appropriately, HK-727 and arrived in March 1966 wearing the airline's old blue cheatline scheme with the Condor logo on the nose. She was followed by three more 727-059s by December 1967. Avianca used the 727s initially on long international sectors to the USA but found them unable to carry enough cargo so they were switched to shorter routes and the number ordered reduced.
The airline's first 727-200s arrived in 1978 but they were not series 259s. Instead the first pair were 2A1s originally destined for VASP and these were followed by a pair of leased 727-2Q9s. It wasn't until 1980 that a trio of series 259s also joined the fleet. The addition of 7 727-200s didn't stop further series 100s from arriving however. During the 1980s a diverse fleet of 13 727-100s arrived, often on relatively short leases. These included 727-022s, 727-021s, 727-095s, 727-044s, 727-051s, 727-046s and 727-035s. The various customer numbers illustrating their varied histories with three of the aircraft leased from Dan Air London one at a time for much of the decade.
As the 1980s progressed the drug-fuelled civil conflict grew worse and began to severely impact Avianca's operations. It was during the 1988-90 period that the three remaining 727-21s would suffer serious attrition. First on March 17, 1988 all 143 passengers and crew onboard were killed when HK-1716 was destroyed when it flew into a mountain minutes after take-off from Cúcuta. The cause of the crash was deemed to be pilot error however 18 months later the loss of this aircraft's sistership HK-1803 was anything but.
On November 27, 1989 HK-1803 was blown up five minutes after take-off from Bogotá by a bomb planted on the orders of Pablo Escobar, leader of the Medellín drug cartel. All 107 onboard perished (plus 3 people on the ground). The cruel act was designed to kill a presidential candidate who in the end wasn't even onboard the flight. The event spurred the US Bush administration to get more deeply involved in the Colombian situation and shocked the nation into finding the resolve to begin to confront the domestic chaos.
So ended the long but ultimately unpleasant careers of all four of the 727-021s Avianca took on in 1974. It is an odd coincidence that all four were lost when the majority of Aviancas other 727s had standard careers.
1994, Nov/Dec. Avianca Turns 75. Airlines Issue 30
Avianca Flight 410
Avianca Flight 203
Avianca's 727 Fleet. rzjets.net
23/6/2016 04:09:03 pm
Thank you for this interesting history, Rich. I have the beautiful Aeroclassics 727-059 in the late 1980's scheme, with reg HK-727. That appears to have been the first aircraft delivered to Avianca. Any idea what happened after her retirement from Avianca in 1992?
26/4/2020 12:35:59 am
She continued to fly until the late 2010s with Aerosucre as a freighter. She then was retired and it is now parked at a quasi-museum in Cali, Colombia. Her extensive history is well documented.
17/7/2016 04:18:45 pm
Excellent article. Very interesting.
21/5/2017 08:48:33 pm
As I understand it, the reason the 737s were retired so quickly was because while their performance was acceptable operating out of Colombia's major cities, they were ill equipped to service the smaller and less developed airfields on Avianca's domestic route network. The low ground clearance of the wing mounted engines in particular, made them vulnerable to FOD and thus unsuitable for most of the airlines internal routes.
25/4/2020 11:09:28 pm
The Fokker 100s didn't start coming until the middle 2000s long after the last 727 was gone.
Leave a Reply.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: