LAN has been authorised by the Ecuadorean government to become the third carrier to serve the Galapagos Islands.
The airline group's Ecuadorean subsidiary announced today it will launch flights to the Galapagos in September. LAN Ecuador says it has secured traffic rights for the Quito-Guayaquil-Baltra route, and will initially operate one daily flight.
LAN has been eyeing the Galapagos market for several years but until now only Aerogal and TAME were authorised to serve the island chain's two airports, which are located on Baltra and San Cristobal islands.
According to Innovata, Aerogal currently operates nine weekly flights on the Quito-Guayaquil-Baltra route while TAME operates eight weekly flights on the same routing as well as six weekly non-stop flights between Quito and Baltra. Aerogal and TAME also operate the Quito-Guayaquil-San Cristobal route with five and three weekly frequencies, respectively.
LAN had been planning to gain access to the Galapagos market this year through a new codeshare with TAME but now plans to operate its own flights to the islands. The Galapagos have traditionally been a highly profitable market with demand outstripping capacity.
The islands are a popular and exotic international tourist destination but the government caps the number of flights and total number of tourists for environmental reasons. International flights are also not allowed at either Galapagos airport, forcing foreign tourists to fly via Guayaquil or Quito.
LAN Ecuador was established in 2003 but until last year was only authorised to operate international flights. Last year the carrier was able to launch domestic services on the Quito-Guayaquil, Quito-Cuenca and Guayaquil-Cuenca routes using newly secured traffic rights. In its statement today, LAN Ecuador says its domestic operation carried over 500,000 passengers in its first year.
LAN Ecuador says it will operate its new Galapagos service with Airbus A320 family aircraft but does not specify the exact time. The carrier currently uses A318s domestically.
For the Chile-based airline group being able to add the Galapagos to its network is significant as it will now be able to offer tourists from throughout Latin America as well as North America and Europe online connections to the islands. Aerogal's new owners, Avianca-TACA, are also planning to offer similar connections. For the last several years international connections to the Galapagos have been predominately offline because the flights to the islands have only been operated by small local carriers with no or limited tie-ups with larger carriers from Latin America or beyond.