Aerolineas was founded in May 1949 when the Argentinean Ministry of Transport merged the carriers Fama, Alfa, Aeroposta and Zonda (which ceased to operate), Aerolineas Argentinas took over all their existing routes.
During its first ten years of operation Aerolineas was rarely out of financial difficulties. Brigadier General Fabri, who was President of the Argentine Air Transport Association, claimed that the airlines was, “one of the biggest money losers in the world”. It was said that the airline had lost £1.400,000 the previous year (1958) yet, despite this, they had made a £9,000,000 commitment to purchase six Comets Mk.4.
In fact the order for Comets was made in order to help in Aerolineas’s attempts to regain solvency. In South America, as anywhere, the simple fact was that any airline operator that failed to compete with foreign carriers, if necessary by using the new jet transports, was bound to suffer. The major United States airlines were about to introduce the Boeing 707 on their South American routes – Aerolineas Argentinas was obliged to respond.
Strangely, in May 1960 the Argentineans hit the headlines once more because of another ‘financial’ incident – but this time it was a dispute to which Aerolineas were not directly a party.
One of their new Comet 4Cs was seized by the Italian Authorities after landing at Rome Airport. A Milan court had given an order for the seizure following court action by an Italian industrialist, Franchesco Gronda, against the Argentine Government. It seems that £11.5 million was owing for the construction of an aluminium factory in Argentina. The court released the aeroplane two days later.
There was much concern in Hatfield after another change of Government in Argentina when it became known that considerable pressure was being exerted to force Aerolineas to cancel their order for Comet and buy Boeing 707s (or 720s) in their place. To make matters worse these events happened to coincide with further reports in the financial press of more heavy losses by Aerolineas – said to be £2,500,000 the previous year.
However the new Government declared that it favoured a policy of ‘continuity’ in the field of foreign trade. Aerolineas found it had friends in high places – Government departments, members the Air Force and Navy as well as President Frondizia – all gave the order their support.
Most countries set great store in the prestige conferred by having their own airline and Argentina was no exception. Aerolineas would show their South American neighbours, with whom there was an intense and sometimes bloody rivalry, that they were the leading airline on the continent, the only South American carrier to have their own jets. Further Aerolineas would be carrying the flag into the more remote parts of the area, and such were the particular operating characteristics of the aeroplane that, often they were able to schedule the Comet into airfields that could not accommodate the Boeing 707 or DC8.
By the time the first Aerolineas Comet 4 was being readied to be rolled out at Hatfield, sixteen Aerolineas aircrew were already completing a seven week training course at Hatfield. Their senior pilot was Capt. L. A. Fortin. Registered LV-PLM, the first aeroplane of the order made its maiden flight on 27th January 1959 and, the same day, was officially handed over to the airline.
By March 2nd LV-PLM – soon to be re-registered LV-AHN – had completed its production test flying and crew training programme and was ready to set off on it’s delivery flight home to Argentina. Piloted by Captains S. Llense and A. Aguirre the Comet flew via Dakar, Recifé and on to Buenos Aires – a distance of 7075 miles which they completed in 18 hours elapsed time.
The second Aerolineas Mk.4 LV-AHO (initially registered LV-PLO) made its first flight on 25th February 1959 with Pat Fillingham and L.E.F.Young amongst the crew.
It was delivered to Buenos Aires, with Messrs. Buggé and Young, setting off from Hatfield on 18th March – the flight doubled as a promotional opportunity for de Havilland. Lengthy stopovers were made at Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome, Madrid and Lisbon – at each city, two demonstration flights were flown. The journey to Buenos Aires continued via Dakar and Recifé and the Comet arrived in the Argentinian capital on 25th March.
For a more detailed account of some of these training flights see Flight Engineers Log for 1959.
To sum up re-registrations: On 2/3/1959 LV-PLM became LV-AHN ‘Las Tres Marias’; LV-PLO became LV-AHO ‘Cruz del Sur’; and in May LV-PLP became LV-AHP ‘El Lucero del Alba’.
More training and route proving flights took place during March and early April leading up to the inaugural scheduled flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. The 850 mile hop was completed in a (then) record time of 1 hr 49 min.
The third Mk.4 – LV-AHP – was delivered on the 2nd May 1959 to Buenos Aires (BA) by Pat Fillingham, de Havilland Chief Production Test Pilot – accompanied by Aerolineas Captains Aguirre and Llense.
Soon all three Comets were fully employed training, route proving or operating commercially. Aerolineas Argentinas planned to commence services to London on 19th May – beating BOAC who had advanced plans to service the route themselves. BA to New York was scheduled to begin on 29th May. de Havilland training crews accompanied many of these ‘new’ flights.
In May (8th) Aerolineas signed a contract with BOAC whereby the Corporation would provide maintenance facilities for them in London, Frankfurt, Rome and New York. It was the first contract of its kind between the two rival carriers. However there were no other commercial arrangements with regard to Comet 4 services between the two operators, after all, they were eventually planning to be in competition with each other on a number of routes between BA and Europe.
The interior of the Aerolineas Argentinas Comets differed from those of BOAC – the purchaser could always select their preferred options when it came to furnishings. For example, Aerolineas’s first class seats were designed and fitted by de Havilland and were built by Lancefield Aircraft Components Ltd. Whereas the tourist seats were supplied by Aircraft Furnishing Ltd. The cabin was styled by Charles Butler and provided for 24 first 46 tourist class passengers.
An operational problem arose in August 1959 when Aerolineas were refused Comet 4 landing rights at Rio de Janeiro, which of course was one of their principal destinations. The Brazilian Government claimed that Comets were damaging their runway! In fact this refusal probably owed much to the fact that Aerolineas had criticised the condition of the Rio runway on a previous occasion. Brazilian pride was hurt and the refusal of landing rights was their immediate response. Of course it was nonsense. The Argentineans pointed out in the Comets defence that the aircraft had been using many of the world major airports for more than a year and that there had been no reports of runway damage anywhere else. Eventually the Brazilians gave way.
The second phase of Aerolineas Argentinas expansion was to take place with the delivery, by the mid-1960s, of the remaining three Comets. LV-AHR, originally named ‘Alborada’, was re-named ‘Arco Iris’ and LV-AHS, originally ‘Las Tres Marias’, was re-named ‘Alborada’. Both aircraft were delivered in March 1960. The third Comet 4, LV-AHU ‘Centaurus’, was delivered in July 1960.
So the Argentinean airline purchased a total of six Comets. Three of these they lost in accidents –
LV-AHP was damaged beyond repair after hitting a hill-top near Asuncion, Paraguay on 26th August 1959 when it made a forced landing in bad weather. It was carrying 54 passengers and a crew of eleven and was on a flight from Buenos Aires to New York. The very experienced Capt. S. J. Llense was killed and an elderly woman passenger died of shock in the accident.
Soon after the crash the possibility of salvage was assessed, however, the wings and nose were reported to be too badly damaged. So salvage was not considered viable. Snr. José Guiraldes, President of Aerolineas Argentinas said, soon after, that the cause of the accident was not known but it could have been much worse but for the ruggedness of the Comet and the skill of the pilot. No official report was ever released on the loss.
LV-AHO was destroyed after a heavy landing at Ezeiza Airport, Buenos Aires while on a crew training flight on 20th February 1960.
LV-AHR was destroyed when it hit a clump of trees on takeoff from Vira Copos Airport, Campinas, Brazil on 23rd November 1961. Campinas is 240 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The aircraft was en route from Buenos Aires to New York and appeared to have been returning to the alternative runway for an emergency landing after a fire had developed in a wing. 40 passengers and the crew of twelve were killed in the accident which occurred at 03.00 hrs. It seems Campinas was used as an alternative to San Paulo because it offered longer runways and better flying weather conditions. The cause of the accident was to remain a mystery because there was no evidence of any airframe or engine malfunction prior to the crash and, again, there was no official report into the accident.
Despite these incidents the Comet proved to be a great success for the airline and by September 1959, on their North American route, load factors had risen from 49% to 86% following the Comets introduction. Interestingly it had risen only 6% on their European routes, that is, on routes already well served by jets.
As a status symbol the Comet was unmatched. On November 26th 1961 President Frondizi set off on a 32 day world tour in a Comet setting out from Buenos Aires.
Underlining their commitment to the Comet, Aerolineas Argentinas signed a contract with Heenan and Froude Ltd. of Worcester in January 1963 for the installation of a Rolls-Royce Avon test facility. It was said to be one of the most comprehensive engine test facilities in use with any airline in the world. It featured a fully sound-proofed test house and could handle turbojet engines up to 30,000lb thrust. The airline were clearly planning for the future.
In 1962 a Mk.4C became available when M.E.A. failed to take up an option due to financial problems. In August 1961 this particular aeroplane had been registered G-AROV by de Havilland. Aerolineas took over the order and it was delivered to Argentina on 27th April 1962 as a replacement for one of their lost aircraft. Initially registered LV-PTS it, like the other Comets, had its registration changed the following month to LV-AIB and named ‘President Kennedy’.
Fate of the Comets
LV-AHN, LV-AHS, LV-AHU and LV-AIB, after many years of successful operation, were all eventually sold to Dan-Air, London between October and December 1971.