COLOMBIA AIR CRASH

The short life of Lamia, the airline that should have flown Chapecoense to glory

Low-cost carrier was set up in Venezuela to provide regional charter flights

Set up in 2009 by politician-turned entrepreneur Ricardo Albacete Vidal, the airline involved in the Chapecoense air crash, Lamia, was originally based in the Venezuelan city of Mérida, in the south of the country, to offer domestic and regional routes not covered by other companies – a strategy that ultimately proved unsuccessful. After being granted a license to fly in neighboring Bolivia, in 2015, it moved to Santa Cruz, the country’s second-largest city.

A plane belonging to Lamia's fleet.
A plane belonging to Lamia's fleet.STRINGER / REUTERS

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Lamia focused on the regional charter sector, which soon proved profitable, and the company had the backing of Marcos Díaz Orellana, the former governor of Mérida and a member of Hugo Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Albacete Vidal had formerly been a member of the Venezuelan Senate before Chávez took over. The company’s first flight, in 2010, into Mérida, which sits at the bottom of a steep valley flanked by two mountains, came just two years after a crash in the same locality that killed all 46 aboard a Santa Barbara ATR-42.

Interviewed on regional television about his plans for the company, Albacete Vidal said he aimed to offer low prices and high-quality service that would see passengers refunded if they were unable to board a flight for whatever reason.

The Venezuelan national team used Lamia in September to fly to Colombia

But the company soon ran up against the bureaucracy of Chávez’s Venezuela: Lamia was unable to complete the process to be used by the state for charters. The reopening of Mérida airport was repeatedly delayed, until Albacete Vidal’s patience ran out. Speaking at a press conference he blamed the country’s civil aviation authority and an opposition deputy, William Dávila, of blocking his efforts. His enemies accused him of acting as an intermediary for Chinese entrepreneur Sam Pa, whom the United States said was involved in corruption and organized crime and looking to set up shop in Venezuela.

Lamia was originally based in the Venezuelan city of Mérida

Albacete Vidal made contact with Carlos Mata Figueroa, the governor of the Caribbean state of Nueva Esparta, which is home to the country’s main resort of Isla Margarita. The idea was to set up flights from northern Brazil and to take advantage of Venezuela’s recent entry into Mercosur. But these plans too, came to nothing.

In 2015, now based in Bolivia and operating under the name of Lamia Corporation, the company began working with South America’s soccer federations and the teams playing in the Sudamericana and Libertadores Cups, offering long-haul flights at low-cost prices. The Venezuelan national team used Lamia in September to fly to Barranquilla when it played Colombia, while Argentina chartered a plane to fly to Belo Horizonte in Brazil three weeks ago. The Argentinean squad apparently complained about the poor quality of on-board service. Now the company faces the worst tragedy that can befall an airline.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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