Airbuses' maiden product, the medium sized widebody A300, entered service on May 23, 1974 but faced a difficult beginning. Coming after the 747, DC-10 and L-1011, plus following the early 70s oil shock, it struggled to attract orders despite being better sized for many airline's routes. It of course didn't help that it wasn't made in the USA and that Airbus itself was an unproven entity. Nonetheless slowly Airbus made some inroads outside of France and Germany with purchases by Indian Airlines and Korean Air. Even so no sales were made between December 1975 and May 1977 bringing the whole programme into doubt. Obviously Airbus weathered this storm and canny dealings with Eastern and Pan Am, plus further development of the A300 itself guaranteed the type a bright future.
Within Latin America the first airline to put an A300 into service was Aerocóndor of Colombia, which acquired a single A300B4, HK-2057X 'Ciudad de Barranquilla' on December 10, 1977. The A300 was a success on the competitive Miami route but Aerocóndor was in a financial and management crisis from which it was unable to escape. It ceased operations in May 1980 and was never able to purchase the second planned A300 it wanted.
Fortunately by then Airbus had received further orders from this region of the world. By 1979 it was offering both the A300 and the shorter A310 and during 1979 alone it took orders and options for 221 aircraft (129 of which were for A310s). One of the orders received was from Brazil's Cruzeiro do Sul. Cruzeiro had been taken over by VARIG's owner, the Ruben Berta Foundation, in May 1975 removing VARIG's largest competitor on domestic services. Cruzeiro's brand was continued, however its fleet and schedule was rationalised with VARIG's. It seems VARIG used Cruzeiro to test out the A300 with the first pair of four aircraft joining on June 20, 1980 and the second arriving six days later.
The Cruzeiro A300s were used on trunk domestic services and the limited latin american network successfully. Known as the 'Silent Giant' they were quieter and more environmentally friendly than competing types, the former being especially important given the closeness of several major Brazilian airports to their cities. The A300s were the biggest type able to operate into Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport. They were also used to Miami, however this was really a VARIG route and Cruzeiro's service on the route gained a rebuke from US authorities. This along with the general success of the Cruzeiro A300s led to VARIG to take the next pair on order, which were delivered ten days apart in June 1981.
VARIG was not alone in recognising the benefits of the Airbus product. Its domestic competitor VASP was also keen (although the other Brazilian major opted for the Boeing 767-200). It ordered a trio of A300s in 1980 (as well as 9 A310s) however in the end only the A300s would be delivered. VASP's A300s were earlier B2 versions, the first pair of which arrived on November 5 and 8, 1982.
The third would arrive on January 31, 1983 during the airline's 50th anniversary year. The A300s were the largest aircraft in the history of the airline and introduced a new livery. They were mainly used on circular trunk routes from Sao Paulo such as Congonhas-Brasilia-Manaus and Congonhas-Rio de Janeiro-Salvador de Bahia-Recife-Fortaleza-Belem-Manaus. They also were sometimes utilised for charters to Aruba or Orlando.
The short field performance of the A300 was decreased in value in 1985 with the opening of São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport, which could be used instead of the inner city São Paulo–Congonhas Airport. VARIG was convinced to replace its A300s by Boeing who sold it six replacement Boeing 767-200ERs at low prices in a successful effort to rid VARIG's fleet of Airbus products. The 767s had superior range to the base model A300B4s and VARIG followed up with larger 767-300s soon afterwards. The six 767-241ERs arrived from July-August 1987 and tookover many of the shorter lower density latin american international routes but also served charter services to Europe. Nonetheless the A300s were not sold immediately and continued on until being sold in 1989/90. By then Cruzeiro was merely a shell of its former self and it did not acquire any widebodies when its A300s were sold alongside the VARIG examples.
The two A300B4-2Cs were sold to Japan Air System in April and December 1989 whilst the pair of A300B4-203s were sold to Air Jamaica in May and June 1990. VASP's trio of A300s continued in service throughout the 1990s but towards the end of the decade the airline was haemorraghing money as a result of over expansion and mismanagement. Its fall was swift with all international services cancelled in 2002 and by 2004 its share of domestic services down to 10%. The fleet was reduced to the oldest paid for components, mainly 737-200s and the trio of A300s. However as early as 2001 the eldest A300, PP-SNL required a D check. This was never completed and instead her parts kept the other two A300s in the air. The remaining A300 pair flew Porto Alegre-São Paulo–Guarulhos-Rio de Janeiro-Salvador de Bahia-Recife-Fortaleza and São Paulo–Guarulhos-Salvador de Bahia-Recife-Fortaleza.
Keeping both A300s in the air was proving difficult with the perilous financial state of the airline. When PP-SNN blew an engine on take-off at Recife an engine had to be borrowed from PP-SNM to get her back to Sao Paulo for repairs. Even with this fixed SNN required a C check and then later in the year SNM blew an engine also. SNN's C check was nearing completion when VASP suffered its worst financial crisis. Neither of the A300s would re-enter service and indeed VASP itself was grounded permanently on January 27, 2005. Along with much of the VASP fleet all three A300s were unceremoniously abandoned.
It was a sad end for the 'Silent Giant' in Brazil but the A300 had proven itself economic, safe and reliable. The Brazilian A300s were another small step forward in Airbus proving itself capable and competent on the international aviation scene and ably serviced the needs of Brazilians for more than 2 decades.
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: