The Largest Airlines in South America

An image of South America highlighting major air routes.
An image of South America highlighting major air routes.

South America is a vast continent with a rich history and beauty that attracts millions of people annually. The coastal beaches, beautiful landscapes, favorable climate throughout the year, people, nature make the continent a popular holiday and business destination. Air travel options have improved and now offer South Americans some of the best airlines in the world. With high safety standards, good customer service, and other comfortable options for different budgets, air travel is considered the most cost-effective means of transportation in South America. However, not all airlines are equal in terms of passenger numbers and flight size. Some airlines continue to dominate the continent in terms of passenger count, fleet size, and the number of destinations serviced.

Largest Airlines by Passenger Count

LATAM Airlines Group is among the largest airlines in the world in terms of the number of destinations and passenger count. The carrier is incorporated under Chilean laws and headquartered in Chile, with other offices across South America. LATAM has a passenger fleet size of 313, servicing 160 domestic and international destinations. It continues to dominate South America’s air travel, recording 67.8 million domestic and international passengers in 2014, up from 66.7 million the previous year.

Gol Transportes Aereos is the largest low-cost airline in South America. it operates a growing domestic and international network with a focused operation in Brazil and other South American cities. Established in 2000, Gol has grown into one of the major airlines in South America, managing 130 passenger fleets servicing 64 domestic and international destinations. With the increasing demand for the airline services, 39.7 million domestic and international passengers used the airline in 2014.

Avianca Holdings was formed in 2010 with the merger of Avianca and TACA Airline, which were based in Colombia and El Salvador, respectively. It is the second largest airline holding company in South America in terms of both fleet size and revenue. Avianca Holdings has a fleet of 189 aircraft that serves more than 100 destinations across America and Europe. In 2016, the airline holding company recorded 29.4 million domestic and international passengers, up from 28.3 million in 2015.

VivaColombia is a low-cost airline and among the largest airlines in South America. It is owned in part by Ryanair, Europe’s biggest low-cost airline. VivaColombia has only eight aircraft in its fleet, but services 25 destinations across five countries, including Colombia, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and the United States. In 2014, the airline recorded 2.3 million domestic and international passengers, much lower than the numbers recorded by LATAM, the largest airline in the region.

TAME and Boliviana de Aviación complete the list of the largest airlines in South America by passenger count. The two airlines recorded 1.8 million and 1.3 million domestic and international passenger counts in 2014, respectively. TAME is Ecuador’s national carrier, while Boliviana de Aviacion is the national carrier of Bolivia.

Passenger Trends

Although South America is served by hundreds of airlines, only three dominate the continent. LATAM, Avianca Holdings, and Gol account for over 60% of both domestic and international passengers. These three airlines travel to several domestic and international destinations that are not served by other airlines in South America. For example, VivaColombia is a low-cost airline that only serves 25 destinations, and the majority are domestic, therefore leading to a low passenger count.

The Largest Airlines in South America

RankAirlinePassengers Carried, 2014 (Millions)
2Gol Transportes Aereos39.7
3Avianca Holdings29.4
6Boliviana de Aviación1.3

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