Bolivian state airline set for takeoff next year
By Carlos Alberto Quiroga
LA PAZ, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Bolivia will launch a new state airline in January, filling a gap left by last year's collapse of its privatized flag carrier as President Evo Morales steps up his control of the economy.
The leftist Morales has nationalized energy and mining firms since becoming Bolivia's first Indian president in 2006, and his government also plans state-run cement and paper companies.
The nascent airline, called Boliviana de Aviacion, or BoA, will take delivery of its first two aircraft by the end of 2008, General Manager Ronald Casso told Reuters on Friday, adding that another three would soon be leased.
"The aim is to build a serious airline ... that's the starting point of BoA," Casso told Reuters in a phone interview.
He said BoA would initially only cover domestic routes in the poor South American country, but the company is already considering international flights in the medium term.
Morales announced the plan to create a new state-run carrier just over a year ago and pledged to invest some $15 million to get it up and running.
BoA will fill a void left by the collapse of Lloyd Aereo Boliviano, the former state-run airline that was privatized in the late 1990s.
Lloyd was forced to suspend operations in early 2007 due to serious financial difficulties and Bolivia's transport regulator barred the airline from flying again after hundreds of passengers were stranded by canceled flights.
Casso said it was better for the state to start anew than try to rescue Lloyd.
"Very soon it became clear that a big state investment couldn't be justified to renationalize an airline laden with debts and obsolete aircraft. It didn't make sense," he said.
BoA's chief competitor will be Aerosur, which has 16 aircraft and flies within Bolivia as well as to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Paraguay, Peru, Spain and United States. Aerosur is a private company headquartered in the eastern city of Santa Cruz.
In neighboring Argentina this week, the lower house of Congress backed a government bill to seize the country's biggest airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, from its Spanish owners.
Morales' main regional ally, Venezuela's fiery left-wing leader Hugo Chavez, also launched a state-run airline in 2004, Conviasa, which flies to Iran and Syria.
(Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)