Spanning the southwestern coast of Latin America, Chile is one of the continent’s most developed economies. Sitting on the pacific ocean, it shares borders with Argentina to the West along with Peru and Bolivia to the north and the Drake Passage towards the south. Interestingly, Chile is the southernmost country in the world, lying closest to Antarctica.
Given the country’s size, it counts around 125 airports and is host to one of the most highly regarded and busiest international airports in Latin America. Here Eways Aviation takes a look at the top four busiest airports in Chile.
Alternatively known as Santiago International and also Nuevo Pudahuel International, Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is located in Pudahuel, 15 km north-west of the Chilean capital Santiago. It is Chile's busiest airport (24.6 million passengers 2019) and serves as the main air-portal to the rest of the world. Furthermore it constantly ranks in the top 10 busiest airports in South America for both passenger numbers and aircraft movements.
Arturo Merino Benitez International is fully owned by the Chilean government whilst being managed by Nuevo Pudahuel; an amalgamation of the European aviation companies that includes the French Aéroports de Paris and Vinci, along with Astaldi from Italy. Given its strategic location in a highly populated area, as well as falling in a central part of the country, many local airlines such as LATAM and Sky Airline choose the airport as their maintenance hub.
Opening its gates in 1967, the airport had been commissioned in 1961 to replace Chile’s old primary airport - Los Cerrillos Airport, that had hit its operational capacity and was proving insufficient to fulfil Chile’s growing aviation demands. It takes its name after an aviation pioneer that had established both the country’s modern air force along with the airline LATAM Chile.
Since its inauguration the airport has seen several expansions and renovations notably in 1994 when it was given a 90,000m2 terminal inspired by that of the French Marseille Provence Airport. In addition in 2007 the airport was given a second 3,800m asphalt runway parallel and identical to the first. Having reached its operational capacity in the early 2010s there have been proposals to expand the airport once more and increase its capacity with construction underway since 2016.
Today the airport sees an expansive list of airlines that frequent its runways including American Airlines, Iberia, LATAM Group, KLM, British Airways and others.
El Loa Airport
El Loa Airport serves Calama city in the Antofagasta Region of Chile. It is located 6km from the city centre and has a single 3,040m asphalt runway. This airport had been established in 1952 for the private operations of the Calama Air Club and was purposely built to accommodate for their light aircraft. Change came in 1967 when control of the facility was passed to the state that aimed to transform the airport to provide scheduled flights for Calama city.
Its new passenger terminal was built in 2014, covering a total area of 9,434m2, it features three air bridges, an expanded apron along with an improved commercial zone. It was also given a new control tower and fire fighting station. On the aesthetic side, El Loa Airport’s surroundings were given a landscape make-over along with the addition of a new car park.
As Chile’s second busiest airport it regularly sees traffic from domestic destinations from such flyers as LATAM, JetSmart and Sky Airline.
Andrés Sabella Gálvez International Airport
The third most active airport in Chile is Andrés Sabella Gálvez International Airport, previously known as Cerro Moreno International. It is situated 10 kilometres to the north of Antofagasta, one of the fastest growing cities in Chile and capital of the Antofagasta Region.
The airport was constructed between the years 1972-73 although it was not inaugurated and did not start operations until 1975. It takes its name after the notable Chilean poet Andrés Sabella Gálvez, who was native to Antofagasta.
The airport has a single 2,599m asphalt runway that is capable of accomodating for large haul aircraft. It sees primarily domestic traffic although LATAM Peru provides a flight to Lima.
El Tepual Airport
Serving as the main terminal of the Los Lagos Region, El Tepual airport is found 18km from the city of Puerto Montt. Having taken five years to complete, the airport began operations in 1960, welcoming its first Douglas DC3 aircraft. That same year the region experienced a violent earthquake and the airport was used extensively to provide relief provisions and undertake rescue missions in the aftermath.
The airport is a significant contributor to the remote Los Lagos region which continues to rely on the airport for transport and cargo needs. Currently El Tepual is seeing its first significant expansion since its official inauguration in 1963.
At the halfway point of completion, the airport is set to receive a new 16,000m2 terminal with an increased capacity of 3 million annual passengers, a new control tower and upgraded equipment including baggage handling, fire fighting stations and security screening paraphernalia. Chilean authorities aim to inaugurate the new terminal by 2025.
Today the airport sees regular traffic from Chile’s three main airlines - LATAM, JetSmart and Sky Airline that provide connections to domestic destinations that include Punta Arenas, Balmaceda and Santiago.
Peaks and Valleys
While Chile has one of the highest standards of life in Latin America, its airport performance is somewhat muddled. On one hand the capital’s Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport is one of the most active and impressive in the region but otherwise, the airports serving other regions lag behind in their capabilities. Whilst it seems Chilean authorities are gradually improving this weak point, it will take several years before Chile can be considered an aviation superpower in South America.
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