Grupo Viva suspended all flight operations on February 27, 2023, blaming the civil aviation authority (Aerocivil) and its slow processing of the review of its proposed takeover by Avianca Group.

"While operations are suspended, Viva will continue negotiations with creditors under the procedures of Decree 560 [COVID-related business recovery process], and will strive to preserve its ability to restart operations at a future date, assuming Aerocivil immediately approves the pending alliance [with Avianca]," the low-cost carrier said in a statement.

Grupo Viva said Aerocivil's recent decision to admit five other carriers (LATAM Airlines Group, JetSMART, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Wingo (Colombia), and Ultra Air) as "interested parties" to the review process was bound to slow it down. The LCC stressed that it presented abundant evidence to the government and Aerocivil that it urgently needed fresh capital, which only the alliance with Avianca Group could provide at this point.

"Viva has had countless meetings with high-ranking members of the national government to explain the critical financial situation of the airline. In seven months, the government received more than five financial updates to demonstrate that Viva qualified to treat its request under the mode of "exception for a company in crisis"... For weeks, Aerocivil has had all the information it needed, the full legal capacity, and authority to issue that decision without further delay," Grupo Viva said.

Viva said that it has been under constant pressure from lessors. Its first two aircraft were repossessed after Aerocivil rejected the initial merger proposal in November 2022. Since then, lessors met directly with the Colombian government to explain the financial situation, Viva revealed.

The suspension affects both Viva (Colombia) and Viva Air Perú.

The ch-aviation fleets module shows that following a series of repossessions and groundings, Viva's active fleet as of February 27, 2023, comprised five A320-200s and ten A320-200Ns. At the peak in 2019-2021, Grupo Viva's fleet numbered twenty-four A320ceo/neo aircraft.

Aerocivil issued a statement underlining that it had to follow procedures and adhere to deadlines outlined in the law.

"The concessions offered by the applicants to mitigate the impact of the alliance on free competition need to be transparently and openly presented to the recognised third parties, who have to be able to express their opinion... Neither press reports nor posts on social media can accelerate the process. The administrative decision is based on the obtained information and follows stages and opportunities [for comment] outlined in law," the regulator outlined.

Aerocivil stressed that the review would continue despite Viva's "decision to suspend flights of thousands of passengers who bought tickets and expected to fly". Shortly before the LCC announced the suspension of operations, Minister of Transport Guillermo Reyes told Bluradio that Aerocivil would issue a new ruling on the merger by mid-March 2023, in line with existing procedures.

"The director of Aerocivil outlined some procedures based on the law, which should be completed by mid-March. The government has expressed its support not only for a quick decision but one that takes everyone's interests into account... We have plans A, B, and C to ensure that our citizens are not negatively affected, that the government protects the workers of Viva at this juncture," he said.

The left-wing government of President Gustavo Petro has previously hinted at a possible state rescue of Viva, although with no details.

Viva employees published an open letter to the government last week, calling for an expeditious review of the merger.

"We have only a few days to save our airline. This situation is unsustainable for the more than 1,200 direct employees, who every day see a different twist in this story, noise, rumours, and personal interests and from different companies," Viva's staff wrote.

The LCC group said that it continued to hope for approval of its merger with Avianca Group as it would allow it to restart operations as a separate airline.

Avianca Group issued a statement before Viva's decision to suspend operations, reaffirming its commitment to rescue the carrier contingent on the approval of the merger. It blamed Aerocivil for deferring the decision "despite the critical financial situation - evident and declared - faced by Viva". Castlesouth Limited, a trust which has owned Viva's political rights since the acquisition of economic rights by Avianca, expressed the same sentiment.

"After seven months of delays and lack of aciton, Aerocivil chose to recognize the interests of several foreign airlines, including an airline owned by a foreign government, over the interests of Colombia's Viva... If Aerocivil does not act and Viva disappears from the market, the Colombian government will have privileged the interests of airlines managed from Argentina, Chile, Panama and the United States over those of Viva itself," the trust said.

Both Avianca Group and Castlesouth issued their respective statements before the suspension of Viva's operations. The flag carrier told ch-aviation it had no further comment to make afterwards, as it was focused on providing assistance to Viva's passengers.

Meanwhile, JetSMART - which signalled interest in buying Viva but did not submit a binding offer - has applied for a temporary authorisation to operate domestic flights in Colombia to fill the market gap left by Viva. The Indigo Partners-backed local unit JetSMART Colombia remains under early certification.