Founded on May 7, 1927, Varig (Rio-Grandense Airway) would celebrate its 90th birthday on Sunday. Born in Rio Grande do Sul, for decades it was the main airline of Brazil until facing crises in the 1990s and was sold in 2007 to Gol and disappear from the market.
Varig’s strengths were the variety of its national and international routes, the use of modern aircraft and, above all, the quality of service, which was awarded the best in the world in 1979 by the American magazine Air Transport World.
The most important Brazilian airline was created by a German. Former German Air Force airman Otto Ernst Meyer arrived in Brazil to work for a textile company in Recife (PE) and soon saw the future potential of aviation in the country. Otto tried to get support from the Pernambuco and Rio de Janeiro governments to start an airline, but only found help in Rio Grande do Sul.
With the project viable, Otto left for Germany, where he struck a deal that Condor Syndikat would have 21% control of Varig in exchange for aircraft and aircraft maintenance. Thus, Varig would receive its first Dornier J-Wal seaplane with a capacity of nine passengers. At first, Varig only made regional flights within the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The first route flew over Lagoa dos Patos, connecting Porto Alegre to Rio Grande (RS).
The first landing gear aircraft was incorporated into Varig’s fleet in 1932, a Junkers A-50, followed by the Junkers F-13. To make operations feasible, Varig built in the cities where runways were flying.
Varig’s great expansion began effectively only in the 1940s. In the midst of World War II, German Condor Syndikat was no longer part of Varig’s controlling interest. The company’s command was in the hands of Rubem Berta, who had been Varig’s first employee.
With the Havilland DH-89 Dragon Rapide, Varig made in 1942 the first international commercial flight of a Brazilian airline on the route between Porto Alegre and Montevideo, Uruguay.
The end of World War II brought yet another business opportunity for Varig. The end of the conflicts created a surplus of warplanes. Thus, Varig purchased several Douglas DC-3 and Curtiss C-46 aircraft, converted for civil use. The new aircraft allowed Varig to become a national company, expanding its flights to all regions of the country.
The company’s longest route to date would come in 1955 with Lockheed Constellation aircraft. The flight linked Porto Alegre to New York, in the United States, with stopovers in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belem (PA) and Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic.
In 1959, the company entered the age of jets with the arrival of Sud Aviation Caravelle aircraft. The following year, it was time to receive the first Boeing 707. In 1968, the 707 was used for flights to Tokyo, Japan. The route to Japan was a legacy of Real Aerovias, which Varig had just acquired.
With the acquisition of Real Aerovias and the end of Panair do Brasil, Varig now has a monopoly on international routes from the country, a measure instituted by the military government. Thus, Varig was the only airline with flights to Japan, the United States, Europe, Africa and South America.
While investing in the jets, Varig still believed in the turboprop for its domestic routes. In 1962, the company received the first Lockheed Electra II model aircraft. They served several national routes, but became famous even for being used for almost 30 years on the Rio – Sao Paulo air bridge. The last Electra flight on this route took place only in 1991.
However, what made the company so popular was its in-flight service. All passengers received their meals in dishes with metal cutlery and glass cups. For Varig’s first-class passengers, even caviar was served.
Varig’s problems began to arise in the 1980s, when the government froze the price of tariffs. In the 1990s, the monopoly of international routes was coming to an end, and the company faced greater competition, especially with TransBrasil.
In the domestic market, TAM’s growth and, later, Gol’s emergence made Varig’s situation even more complicated. In 2002, the company’s loss exceeded $ 2 billion. Without financial conditions, Varig started a judicial recovery process until it was sold to Gol in 2007.
At first, Gol still flew with several aircraft painted with Varig’s brand. The company’s image, however, grew more and more worn down until it disappeared completely.