Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Competing in Chilean Skies

Since the early 1980s, Chile’s privatized flagship LAN Airlines has dominated the country’s airways with upwards of 80 percent of domestic passenger traffic, and by consensus it’s one of the region’s best - if not the best - air carriers.
Its international service is probably superior to any other airline flying to South America from Europe, North America, and the South Pacific. It is also solvent.

Within Chile’s borders, since the late 1980s, a long list of competitors - Aerocontinente, Air Comet, Avant Airlines, Ladeco, and National Airlines - has come and gone. In recent years, Sky Airline appears to have achieved viability but, given the hard times for the global airline industry, you never know.

Given the difficulties of competing with LAN, it’s surprising to see a new Chilean carrier, Principal Airlines, about to begin services from Santiago to the Atacama Desert cities of Antofagasta and Iquique. According to Mercopress, Principal is a direct descendant of National Airlines and has operated as a charter carrier since 2003. Services are due to start June 18 and, even if the company eventually fails, there are some good deals to be had for the moment - fares will start around US$50, which is more than competitive with bus fares on the 18-hour overland route to Antofagasta.

1 comment:

  1. LAN really is a great airline -- they took all of the technological sophistication from successful airlines in other parts of the world, and skipped ahead to implement it, and not act like a 3rd world airline (I'm looking at you, Aerolineas Argentinas). They didn't start up their business half-assed (in the most recent incarnation at least).

    When I first was in Chile, I didn't expect much, given my preconceptions of South America. But LAN is like the Lufthansa of the continent -- efficient, safe, and professional (and actually, friendlier than Lufthansa). And they have modernized their fleet admirably.

    Their website works, as opposed to Air Comet's or Sky's the few times I tried. Check-in is smooth and automated. When you board, your boarding passes have barcodes on them, at a time when some other carriers are even handwriting their boarding passes. The interiors are modern and clean, and on long haul flights (even SCL-EZE), there's in-seat video to choose from. They have the safety videos in Spanish and then English.

    The only problem is that they're getting expensive, but if they are able to take advantage of that business market (by being the airline of choice) and build up a cash reserve to get even better and survive in bad times, then more power to them.

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