Foreign carriers move fast to absorb Pluna's market gap

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Latin American airlines are capitalising on the sudden grounding in late June of Montevideo-based Pluna, which transported a significant amount of connecting traffic between Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Brazil, by adding new routes.

Most significantly, Brazil's Gol has not only announced a new route from Sao Paulo Guarulhos to Montevideo, but also significant improvements of its flights to Buenos Aires from Campinas, Curitiba and Florianopolis. Pluna has a significant market share in these markets, served as connecting flights via the Uruguayan capital.

Aerolineas Argentinas and its regional subsidiary Austral have also increased their capacity on the Buenos Aires to Montevideo shuttle route, a market previously dominated by Pluna. The arrival of an additional Boeing 737-700 into Aerolineas' fleet this week gives the airline the necessary capacity to improve its presence in the market in the short term.

Argentinean state-owned Aerolineas has reportedly proposed to the Uruguayan government to allow it to operate some of the routes formerly operated by Pluna. In parallel, the traditionally protectionist Argentinean aviation authorities rejected a request from Uruguay's only other commercial airline, BQB Air, to operate with its ATR 72-500 aircraft some of the frequencies between both countries which had been abandoned by Pluna.

BQB Air is owned by Buquebus, the largest ferry operator between both countries, whose owner, Juan Carlos Lopez Mena, had made several attempts in the past to acquire Aerolineas.

Paraguay's Sol del Paraguay has also announced its intention to launch a route from Asunción to Montevideo with its Fokker 100 aircraft "as soon as [we] get the administrative authorisation".

In the meantime, the Uruguayan government is still evaluating options to find an investor to refloat the former national airline. But as other airlines are occupying its core markets, Pluna's comeback may increasingly be a challenge.