Washington has agreed to give Aero Continente Chile permission to operate flights to the USA despite unresolved questions about the airline's nationality.

Founded by its Peruvian namesake, the airline claims to be 51% owned by a Chilean citizen, Jorge Portilla Barraza, who is also the airline's president, but there are questions about whether he is really a citizen of Chile or Peru.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) chose to duck this issue. Noting that the USA has an open skies bilateral with Chile, it reasoned: "There is no evidence on the record which would suggest that the ownership of the carrier would be inimical to US aviation policy or interests."

With that, DOT waived concerns about ownership and control, and approved the request by Aero Continente Chile to operate daily Santiago-Miami round trips with a Boeing 767-200.

Controversy has bedeviled the carrier since May when it first started operations. Two Chilean legislators called for an investigation into drug trafficking ties through the Aero Continente Peru, which has been investigated and cleared of such charges in both Peru and the USA. Avant Airlines, a domestic carrier, then accused it of below-cost pricing, a charge that Chile's anti-monopolies commission is still investigating.

Most recently, a LanChile official accused the startup of not levelling with the public about several aircraft it had grounded at Santiago airport. Chile's director general of aeronautics, Mario Avila, replied that the aircraft were parked because Aero Continente Chile had not yet applied to add them to its operating certificate. Avila called the airline's practice "totally legal and legitimate".

Aero Continente Chile planned in October to launch Miami flights in a mirror image of LanPeru's plan to expand USA flights after Washington lifted its controversial wet-lease requirement for Peruvian carriers.

Source: Airline Business