Low-Cost Colombian Airline VivaColombia Takes First Flight

BOGOTA (Dow Jones)–Low-cost airline VivaColombia took its first flight Friday, from Medellin to Bogota, entering Colombia’s growing commercial airline sector with deals as low as $29 each way.

The airline is the second local airline to dub itself “low-cost.” Easyfly, an airline which began in 2007 and saw a 46% jump in passengers last year compared with 2010, was first.

VivaColombia’s investors include Grupo Bolivar, a Colombian holding firm that controls Davivienda (PFDAVVNDA.BO), Colombia’s third-largest bank by assets.

“Better tourism,” said Sergio Diaz-Granados, Colombia’s minister of commerce, industry and tourism, in a Twitter message Friday. “Today the airline VivaColombia begins to operate.”

VivaColombia becomes Colombia’s seventh commercial passenger airline, and the first to use Medellin’s main airport as its hub. The carrier begins with three Airbus A-320s, each able to seat 180 passengers. It will fly five domestic routes.

Colombia’s top airline is Avianca, which is part of airline group AviancaTaca Holding SA (PFAVTA.BO). It controls 55% of flights within Colombia.

Colombia flies 15 million passengers a year in the domestic market, and its airlines’ load factor–the proportion of seats filled on flights–averaged 77% last year.

Colombia has seen the amount of international flyers more than double since a decade ago, when a drug trafficking-fueled guerrilla conflict kept away most foreigners. A military offensive against the rebels has helped reduce the level of guerrilla-linked violence considerably in recent years, encouraging more foreign travelers to visit.

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