Remembering When Concordes Flew to Venezuela

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/21/2016 03:57:00 PM
Remembering when Venezuela wasn't a Chavista hellhole: Of Concordes and oil wealth.
The international humiliation of Venezuela illustrates how far it has fallen in the global pecking order in terms of economic significance. A few months ago, I wrote about how international airlines have begun dropping flights from Caracas paid for in local currency since the government is not exchanging (near worthless) bolivars into foreign exchange--namely, US dollars. Contrary to what is happening to the rest of the world, international flights to Venezuela are disappearing fast. Once a gateway to the region, it's now shunned by most of the world's airlines:
Perched on a coastal plain at the very northern tip of South America, Caracas’s Simón Bolívar International Airport was once the aviation gateway to the continent. Charles Lindbergh scouted the airport’s location in 1929, according to Venezuelan aviation lore, and by 1959, Pan Am was routing its New York-Buenos Aires flights with a stop in Caracas. By the late 1970s, Venezuela was so rich in oil wealth that Concorde jets were swooping in to whisk shoppers off to Paris.

These days, the Caracas airport is a depressing, lonely place, and Venezuelan air travel has shriveled. International carriers have about $4 billion stuck in virtually worthless Venezuelan bolivars that government banks won’t let them convert into hard currency, so they are cutting their losses and dropping Caracas flights. LATAM, the largest carrier in Latin America, took off down the runway this week and isn’t coming back.

By most accounts, Venezuela’s economy is the worst-performing in the world, with the International Monetary Fund predicting a 10 percent contraction this year[...]Since 2013, when the bolivar started its steep drop, the number of passengers traveling to and from Venezuela has fallen nearly 30 percent, according the International Air Transport Association, a leading airline trade group. That is an especially large drop, according to spokesman Jason Sinclair, given that commercial air travel is rapidly increasing almost everywhere else.
I was particularly intrigued by the Concorde stopping over in what has since become a pinko wasteland. Did the world's fastest passenger jets really go to Caracas once upon a time? It's true; they did. Adding to the exotica, the famously range-limited, fuel-hungry jets made stopovers in the Azores:
In 1976 BA launched the jet to Bahrain on a convoluted route down the Mediterranean, while Air France began with Rio – but not non-stop. Due to the distance and Concorde's commercially debilitating lack of range, it had to refuel at Dakar in Senegal. A few months later, the people of the Azores found themselves on the route map; the island of Ponta Delgada served as a pit stop between Paris and Caracas – which was in the middle of an oil boom.
Nowadays, of course, the country is reliant on forced labor in the absence of any real incentives to work. From Concordes to slavery--that doesn't seem like progress, but maybe that's just me.