Qantas, LAN, Air New Zealand to increase Australia flights to South America

Air capacity between Australasia and South America is poised to increase ­significantly, with Air New Zealand , Chile's LAN Airlines and Qantas Airways all adding flights next year.

Air NZ on Friday announced it would begin its first flights to the region by launching three weekly 777-200 services from Auckland to Buenos Aires from December 2015. Tickets will be on sale from March, and the flights will be codeshared with Aerolineas Argentinas, which in April abandoned the Sydney-Buenos Aires route.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon said the new route opened up exciting opportunities for travellers from New Zealand and Australia.

"South America was once the domain of the intrepid explorer, but the direct service to Buenos Aires, with a flight time of around 12 hours, means a quick and action packed getaway is now a reality," he said. "Buenos Aires is the most popular tourist city in South America and is a perfect stepping stone for those who then want to explore the country, or continent, further."

LAN on Thursday said it would boost capacity on its Sydney-Auckland-Santiago flights by 27 per cent from the fourth quarter next year by ­switching its daily services to a larger Boeing 787-9.

It also plans to add additional ­frequencies between Australasia and Chile, although LATAM Airlines Group Asia-Pacific managing director ­Patricio Aylwin said the carrier had not yet decided if those will be direct flights from Australia that bypass the stop in Auckland.

Qantas, which is a codeshare partner of LAN's, offers three weekly non-stop 747 flights from Sydney to Santiago. That will rise to four from February.

"We are evaluating different alternatives," Mr Aylwin told The Australian Financial Review of LAN's plans. "The additional frequencies is something we are looking very closely at."

While the additional flights will be to LAN's Santiago hub, LATAM, which also owns Brazilian carrier TAM, has not ruled out adding flights from Australasia to Brazil in the future. "It is definitely one of the things we are evaluating constantly," Mr Aylwin said. "New technologies allow us to do different things we have done in the past."

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TAM will receive new Airbus A350 aircraft from next year, which like the Boeing 787 represents the latest generation of technology.

LAN has been flying fuel-guzzling four-engine A340s between Sydney and Santiago, but from April it will switch to a 787-8 before upgrading to the larger 787-9 in the fourth quarter.

The 787 is certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration to fly on a single engine when it is up to 6.5 hours from the nearest airport, making flights on a two-engine aircraft on the Australia-South America route possible for the first time. The flight time from Santiago to Auckland is 12.5 hours and the Easter Island airstrip in between isn't always available if needed for a diversionary landing site.

Final approval pending

Mr Aylwin said LAN would need to receive final approvals from air regulators in Chile, Australia and New Zealand before launching the flights. "Safety is the first thing we thought of," he said.

Air NZ's 777-200 flights from Auckland to Buenos Aires will also be on a two-engine aircraft.

The 787s to be flown by LAN will have 30 business class seats, down from 42 on the A340. Mr Aylwin said that was a function of the configuration LAN had chosen for its global 787 fleet rather than a sign of low demand in business class between Australia and South America. "It is a completely new business cabin," he said of the 787. "A second generation of fully flat beds. The one we have on the A340 is the first generation."

LAN's A340 offers 259 seats, the 787-8 has 247 seats and the 797-9 has 313 seats.

Inbound tourism from South America has been growing at a rapid pace, albeit from low levels when compared with other countries.

Tourism Australia classifies Brazil as a "fast emerging" key market. It ranks as Australia's 25th-largest inbound market. In the 12 months to September, arrivals grew by 21.7 per cent to 41,500. The next largest South American market is Chile, with 17,000 arrivals and then Argentina with 13,000. Total arrivals from the region grew by 8 per cent to 90,000 last year.

Tourism New Zealand is also increasingly targeting Brazil, Chile and Argentina as growth markets. In 2013, just under 25,000 Latin American travellers visited New Zealand.