For part 1 of this series see: Pride of Venezuela: VIASA 1960-1970
VIASA's first widebody was another jointly operated half and half aircraft but rather than being a Convair 880 this time it would be a Boeing 747-206B. The aircraft was the last of 7 Pratt & Whitney powered 747s delivered to KLM and arrived in dual VIASA/KLM colours and named 'The Orinoco' on December 15, 1971. The aircraft began services on April 1, 1972 between Caracas, Madrid, Paris and Amsterdam and continued through until March 1973 on this routing. It enabled VIASA to claim the mantle of being the first airline in Latin America to operate the jumbo with its own flight and cabin crew.
The DC-10s seated 269 passengers and as well as operating the transatlantic flights were also used on services to Miami from both Caracas and Maracaibo. This route was known as the 'El Grandioso'. Washington D.C was also added to the route network in 1972. The first DC-10 was PH-DTG and she was joined by PH-DTF and then in 1975 PH-DTH. The DC-10s didn't gain their own Venezuelan registrations until 1977-79.
Venezuela had benefited from the discovery of massive oil deposits around Lake Maracaibo durign World War 1 and these had helped drive the nation's success, which had made it one of the richest countries in South America with some of the best living standards. The 1973 oil crisis was a boon to Venezuela as the values of its oil exports exploded, however this massive cash injection would sow the seeds of both VIASA and Venezuela's effective bankruptcy.
The oil boom coincided with the election of Carlos Andrés Pérez and his government lasted until 1979. The Pérez government undertook a policy of state nationalisation that saw huge swathes of Venezuelan industry fully nationalised. This included VIASA itself. Through the L.A.V shareholding in may 1976 the government share of the airline increased from 55 to 75%. The impact of this was the beginning of the end of the financially sound running of VIASA itself. I can't say better than the words of a Venezuelan poster from Airliners.net:
"The happy-go-lucky feel of Venezuelan bureaucracy then crept into the airline's labour ethic and it became a sad haven of gross mismanagement, nepotism, opportunism and open graft."
Nonetheless the airline recovered to one last year of profits in 1980 before plunging into a sea of debt that it was never able to recover from. This didn't stop the purchase of a pair of new McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, delivered in December 1982, but these could only be afforded until June 1984 when they were returned to their lessor.
One last flourish in 1982/83 was the seasonal lease of an ex-Braniff and Lufthansa 747-130 and a pair of World 747-273Cs to operate seasonal services to Miami, Orlando, Houston, Mexico and Toronto as demand warranted. Planes were hired for peak months (mostly July/August & December/January) and then returned to the lessor. For example, in the summer of 1982, VIASA offered a daily DC-10 Caracas-Maracaibo-Miami plus an evening Caracas-Miami 747 service 4 times a week that would overnight at MIA. Orlando would see 747 daytime flights 3 times a week.
With the new austerity came other shortfalls. The airline was increasingly overstaffed but could not afford to pay the agreed pension funds with the unions. From 1983 no pension payments would be made creating a mountain of extra debt. VIASA would, as with so many other state owned national carriers from Africa and Latin America, become a bloated, debt riddled, inefficient carrier with an aged fleet, constantly on life support until its eventual demise in 1997. This is however not the airline that deserves to be remembered. For over twenty years VIASA was a beacon of stability and success for Venezuela and an airline truly to be proud of.
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: