Corpflite is one of the main companies that supports from the air to mining in Chile, providing an air bridge with the deposits in the Andes Mountains to the city of Santiago.
By Florencia Lucero Heguy
In Chile, mining is the most important economic activity, contributing 10% of the nation’s GDP. Most of the mines are in the middle of the Andes Mountains and many of them in remote areas with difficult access. Arriving from large urban centers can be a long trip if you try to land, as is the case of the Los Pelambres mine, 180 kilometers north of Santiago and about 50 east of the town of Salamanca. Being one of the most important copper and molybdenum mines in Chile, it has its base at about 1200 meters high, but in an area surrounded by mountains, while the site itself is located on the border with Argentina, between 3000 and 3500 meters high. From there, 324 thousand tons of copper in concentrate and 9,800 tons of molybdenum are extracted approximately every year.
While it is possible to arrive by land, the trip can be long and complicated, so when it is required to arrive or leave quickly, the only alternative is the plane.
This is the reality of many other mines in Chile, along the entire Andes Mountains to the limit with Peru. In the north, the mountains are lower, but many sites are far from large urban centers and this implies, sometimes, that an aeromedical evacuation must be done by plane to reach a hospital of high complexity in time.
Thus, several airlines operate in Chile that provide transportation services to mining companies, linking the deposits with the big cities in a short time.
CorpFlite is a company created in 1999 and which aims to provide a wide variety of corporate aviation services and specialized aerial work, such as passenger air transport and light cargo, aerial photography, executive or charter flights, observation and air patrol and medical transfers. The company has a Cessna Citation 650 jet, a Dornier 228-100 and Dornier 228-202K transport, a Piper Cheyenne II and a single-engine Cessna Centurion Turbo II – Eckstar Conversion.
In 2007 they started working together with Aerocardal to provide services to mining companies, renting the first Dornier 228 aircraft to LASSA, until they ended up buying it. The Los Pelambres Mine decided that it needed two airlines operating at the same time, due to a requirement from the insurance company, so Aerocardal and Corpflite started operating simultaneously. For that reason, the company bought a second Dornier, which was flown Norway over the North Atlantic. This aircraft had to be replaced after being lost in an accident in 2013, so the company continues to maintain two Dornier 228 in its fleet.
“On a daily basis, we have been working, since 2009, to make flights for the Andes Mountains that are made from Santiago de Chile to Los Pelambres Mine,” said Germán Ribba, president of the company, and explained that “it is well north of Santiago, we fly daily and fly with 19 passengers to the mine. ” It has a 900-meter private runway and is located at 4000 feet of elevation with high incomes because it is inside a valley, which implies that every day they carry the performance of the plane in a non-extreme way, but at its maximum capacity. The plane has 19 seats, fuel with alternative route within what is in the area and crew for visual operation, where it is required that it be prepared to operate with snow.
“The biggest problems we have on the route are the weather, when there are the troughs that introduce the low strata that are attached to the ground, cover the entire area and do not let you cross,” said Ribba. Another disadvantage that they usually have is that, during the summer, in the mountain range, temperatures of 40 ° C are generated in the canyons or alleys. During the morning there is 15 ° C, but between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. it rises to 40 ° C, which requires coordinating schedules and limitations on the number of passengers, something essential to plan the operation well. Four flights are made to the mine per day, going up and down, according to the occasional requirements during the week. The flight is made, from the north to 10 thousand or 10,500 feet en route, then there is a descent from 10 thousand to 4 thousand feet, always circumnavigating the mountain range. “There are hills of 10 thousand to 14 thousand feet, then we have an approach from 7 thousand to 4 thousand feet of great approach angle and then we go to the track,” Ribba explained and stressed that “the hills force us to do this type of decline”.
In addition to the operation in Los Pelambres, the company also carries out others that involve taking full advantage of the capabilities of its aircraft, especially its Dornier, which allow them to fly to short runways, in mountains or in cases where they have operated in the Robinson Crusoe island in the Juan Fernández archipelago.