Sunday, July 20, 2008

Getting Off the Ground in Argentina

Flying anywhere in Argentina is difficult without passing through Buenos Aires, the hub for almost all air services, so it's often necessary to backtrack to the capital to make connections. There are no direct flights between the provincial capitals of Salta and Mendoza, for instance, so it's obligatory to change planes at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. This would be roughly comparable to flying between San Francisco and San Diego via Denver.

That's why it was interesting when last Friday morning, at 6:35 a.m., I received an email from the city tourism office of Puerto Madryn, in Argentine Patagonia, that Andes Líneas Aéreas was about to start flights to and from the city of Esquel, that morning. Such a route would make it easy to travel between wildlife-rich Península Valdés, near Madryn, and Parque Nacional Los Alerces, near Esquel (which also has a fine ski area just minutes from town).

Meanwhile, Spanish-controlled Aerolíneas Argentinas, with 80 percent of the domestic air market, is about to be renationalized, though there's speculation it may then be resold to Argentine interests. According to the Buenos Aires Herald, many Aerolíneas difficulties "stem from union mischief and state interference — domestic fares have not been allowed to keep pace with costs and fuel subsidies have faltered despite soaring world oil prices." With a workforce allegedly a third larger than it needs, it's hard to see how the Aerolíneas money-pit might be attractive to serious investors, and how service might possibly improve this coming season.

LAN Argentina, the domestic affiliate of Chile's efficiently run LAN Airlines, has taken up some of Aerolíneas slack, but precariously funded smaller airlines often come and go, with erratic service. At 9:09 a.m. that same morning, I received a followup email from Puerto Madryn stating that "due to circumstances beyond our control," the inaugural flight to Esquel would be suspended until Monday, July 21.

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