Some scheduled airline services have resumed at Chile's main airport following the devastating earthquake which struck Chile early on 27 February.

Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benitez in Santiago was re-opened soon after the earthquake to military flights and to some commercial flights which were originally diverted to other Chilean airports. Today several airlines serving Santiago have been able to also operate some regularly scheduled flights.

LAN, which is by far the airport's largest tenant, said in a statement this afternoon that it is now operating a modified domestic and international schedule to and from its Santiago hub. The airline says the modified schedule will continue until at least 4 March and flight operations from 5 March are currently being evaluated with a decision expected later today.

LAN says it is planning to operate about 15% of its normal Santiago schedule on 2 March, using a makeshift tent as a terminal. The passenger terminal remains closed due to damage caused by the earthquake, including in the customs and immigration area. LAN says its international flights will be routed through three other Chilean airports - Antofagasta, Iquique and Punta Arenas - until the customs and immigration facility in Santiago is able to re-open.

LAN says it currently is not accepting any new bookings on flights through 7 March as its current priority is to accommodate passengers who were originally booked on flights that had to be cancelled. The airline group was forced to suspend all operations at Santiago after the earthquake struck while its operations in other Latin American countries continued to operate normally. LAN is based in Santiago but has affiliate passenger airlines in Argentina, Ecuador and Peru.

LAN says it was also forced to divert 17 flights that were en route to Santiago when the earthquake struck to other airports in Chile, primarily Antofagasta in the unaffected north part of the country. A few of these flights were able to continue to Santiago late in the evening on 27 February while the remaining diverted flights were able to land at Santiago on 28 February.

Other airlines serving Santiago also announced today the resumption of flights. Colombia's Avianca, for example, says its Bogota-Santiago service will resume this evening with its regularly scheduled flight as well as an extra flight to accommodate passengers that were originally booked on flights that had to be cancelled on 27 and 28 February. But Avianca says Santiago-bound flights for now have to make a stop in Antofagasta to clear customs.

Other foreign carriers, however, have already cancelled all their flights to Santiago for today and will likely not resume services until later this week. American Airlines, for example, earlier cancelled all flights to and from Santiago through 1 March.

IATA says while there was no damage to any of the runways at Aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benitez the airport "did receive damage to its terminal area". IATA is a major sponsor of the FIDAE air show and "Wings of Change" conference, which are scheduled to be held later this month in Santiago. IATA says there is no damage to the FIDAE show grounds and "at this point in time everything remains as originally planned for the FIDAE air show and Wings of Change conference".

While operations at Santiago are expected to slowly to return to normal, the airport in Concepcion, a city about 500km south of Santiago which was much closer to the earthquake's epicentre, remains closed. According to Innovata, Concepcion has frequent LAN service to Santiago as well as several domestic flights by Chile's second carrier, Sky Airline.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news