Aerolineas Argentinas has no plans to join Gol in its merger with Avianca to form the new pan-South America airline group, Abra, president Pablo Ceriana said.
“It’s difficult to think about something like that,” he said at the ALTA Leaders Forum in Buenos Aires on Monday, citing the Argentine government’s ownership of the airline.
Avianca and Gol unveiled in May plans to form Abra, which will resemble Europe’s International Airlines Group. The group will also include Colombia’s Viva Air, and a minority stake in Chile’s Sky Airline when the merger is complete. Each airline will maintain its own brand and operate independently of the others but they plan to use their combined heft to jointly source from suppliers and coordinate commercially across the region.
While a merger is off the table, Aerolineas is deepening its relationship with long-time partner Gol. The latest aspect of this is a new coordinated shuttle, or “air bridge,” between Buenos Aires’ close-in Aeroparque airport and Sao Paulo Guarulhos from November 1. Aerolineas and Gol will together offer seven daily flights on the route, as well as enhanced customer benefits — like dedicated check-in desks and free flight changes for certain fare classes — and improved connectivity between both airlines’ networks.
Gol CEO Celso Ferrer said the expanded partnership, which builds on the airlines’ existing codeshare, will “make things easier for customers.” It also expands the Brazilian airlines reach in Argentina where it currently flies to just Aeroparque and Mendoza; Cordoba and Rosario flights resume in November, and Buenos Aires Ezeiza flights in December after pandemic suspensions, according to Diio by Cirium schedules.
“Not being part of the group, we can still work together, have a lot of synergies, and a strategic vision about how to work in the region,” Ceriana said.
Both Ceriana and Ferrer agreed that the airlines’ could expand the coordination planned as part of the air bridge to other routes in the future, for example between Buenos Aires and Rio, or Mendoza and Sao Paulo. They also hope to offer nonstop flights between Aeroparque and Sao Paulo’s close-in Congonhas airport one day.
Abra is only one piece of the upheaval underway among Latin American airlines. Aeromexico, Avianca, and Latam Airlines Group all reorganized under the U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. As part of this, Avianca closed its Peru operation and Latam its Argentina subsidiary. In addition, Mexican carrier Interjet closed its doors. And both Gol and JetSmart have formed new partnerships with American Airlines where the U.S. carrier has taken small equity stakes in both airlines.
Aerolineas expects passenger numbers to fully recover from the pandemic next year, said Ceriana. Domestic numbers are almost back to pre-crisis levels, while international is at about 70 percent of 2019. Aerolineas is set to receive $412 million in state support next year.
Latin America is leading the world in the recovery of passenger numbers. In August, just over 92 percent of the passengers that flew during the same month three years earlier took to the skies, according to regional trade group ALTA’s latest data. Domestically in Argentina passenger numbers were 86 percent of 2019, and Brazil at 92 percent. The Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Mexico are already above pre-pandemic levels.
Both Ceriana and Ferrer said they see no slowdown in demand as a result of the numerous macro pressures airlines face. These include high inflation, a strong U.S. dollar, and high energy prices.