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UPDATE 2-Avianca Brasil cancels 179 flights as lessors take back planes

Marcelo Rochabrun

(Adds updated number of flight cancellations)

SAO PAULO, April 12 (Reuters) - Avianca Brasil said on Friday it had canceled 179 flights scheduled over the next five days as the airline's operations finally unraveled four months after it filed for bankruptcy protection.

Avianca Brasil was operating with 35 planes on Friday, a representative said, but could lose nine of them by Monday if a Brazilian judge did not grant an injunction or waited too long to do so. The aircraft belong to lessor Aircastle.

The vast majority of the cancellations are scheduled to take place between Monday and Wednesday and include some flights between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, by far Brazil's most popular route.

For months, Avianca Brasil managed to hold on to its fleet despite continuing to miss lease payments, aided by judges who repeatedly decided that the carrier should be able to keep operating its planes until a creditor meeting could define the fate of the enterprise.

But the creditors meeting took place last week, lifting that restriction. Creditors approved the auction of most of the carrier's assets.

Another lessor, Aviation Capital Group, which is owned by Pacific Life Insurance also received a favorable decision to repossess nine planes and has already taken three. (Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)