Chilean South: an area complicated by both its geography and its meteorology. The isolated inhabitants of the area depend on aviation to travel to and from the main urban centers of this region, in the fastest and safest way.
By Álvaro Romero, photos by the author.
Puerto Montt is the capital city of the Los Lagos Region and is where the Chilean territory sees an important transformation, with the emergence of countless islands. Its dismembered geography brings great challenges for transport, whether sea or air. From the 1980s, the construction of the Austral Highway was given great impetus, but this depends on the sea transshipment in several sections.
The solution for isolation is aviation. She is responsible for transporting passengers or cargo, serving as an air ambulance, flying charteres to fishing lodges or flying over sites of tourist interest. In those operations to places of difficult access, the State subsidizes the activity, with which the costs of these flights of social good are partially covered by the inhabitants.
The above regularly benefits its inhabitants in towns and cities such as Ayacara, Melinka, Nueva Chaitén, Puerto Aguirre and Quellón; also to Castro, Llanada Grande or Puerto Aisén, among others.
The air installations were built on land acquired in March 1943 by the Puerto Montt Air Club, in the sector known as La Paloma, which has the advantage of its proximity to the city. In July 1991, it was renamed Marcel Marchant Binder Airfield (SCPF) in tribute to one of the most remembered presidents of this civil air entity.
Several generations of civil aviators from this area, trained in the Puerto Rican aeroclub, have nurtured regional, domestic and foreign commercial aviation. This Air Club has also accomplished extensive social work by being a link between Puerto Montt and various isolated communities in the region.
It is noteworthy the participation of the Air Club after the various natural disasters that from time to time plague the Chilean territory. Among these, we have the cyclical volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and tidal waves (especially the most destructive in 1960 and 2010), where their aircraft, pilots and maintenance personnel carried out the task of transporting medicines, food and communications equipment, plus the transfer of passengers and medical personnel.
At the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one there was an increase in air operations, which led the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, DGAC, to install an AFIS tower (flight information services) in 2008. In addition, proceeded to lengthen the track and taxiways, going from 600m to 1000m paved between 2007 and 2008. The orientation of the tracks is 19-01, while the maximum operating weight is 5,700 kg.
The airport has facilities such as pilot rooms, fuel pump for piston or turbine aircraft, etc. and it is also a private airfield for public use. This allows the operation of aircraft of all types, both civil and commercial, within the aforementioned weight limitations (Dornier 228, Piper Navajo Chieftain, Cessna Grand Caravan, DHC-6 Twin Otter or LET 410).
According to Gabriel Pinto V., co-owner and pilot of Archipiélagos Ltda., The aerodrome has as comparative advantages “its strategic location and proximity to the city for all who access the site.” He adds that the most recognized improvements are “lengthening of the runway strip from 600 to 1,000 meters and more expedited access to the aerodrome. He concludes by pointing out that among the improvements that should be, are the “improvement in distribution of spaces and widening of the paved strip”
The main concern of the operators and the Puerto Montt Air Club has been urban growth in its vicinity. If located outside the urban radio, in the early 1990s, various villas and buildings began to be built. There was a former mayor who tried to take out the airfield (currently the relationship is cooperative between the Municipality and the Air Club), although the real estate companies are still interested in flat land that can be urbanized and has excellent land connectivity.
However, regional flights and especially those of aeromedical evacuation, have in Marcel Marchant Binder a site close to the city center, which is appreciated by tourists, citizens of isolated locations and operators.
Several airlines have had (and have) their headquarters at this airfield, taking advantage of the El Tepual International Airport (PMC / SCTE) of Puerto Montt, since the latter is 17 km west of the city.
Aerocord is one of them. Its origins come from the old Aerocor (Cordillera Airlines), which had varied aerial material (highlighting the Douglas DC-3, Beechcraft Twin Bonanza and GAF N22B Nomad), in the Aysén area. The company has its hangars, maintenance center and a departure lounge at SCPF.
Its fleet is made up of the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, Cessna T310R, Cessna 402C, from Havilland Canada DHC-6-300 Twin Otter Vistaliner and LET 410UVP-E. Fly itinerary (Monday to Saturday) from Puerto Montt to Santa Barbara, while Melinka operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This same company offers charter boats to other parts of the southern zone (Coyhaique, Chile Chico, La Junta, Puerto Aguirre, Raúl Marín Balmaceda, among others), as well as tourist overflights to the volcano area.
It is about to incorporate three more LET 410UVP-E to its fleet, which also has two Bell helicopters (407 and 429). With the LET, it intends to replace its varied number of aircraft, and start flights to Castro in Chiloé, with the possibility of expanding to Temuco and Concepción in the future.
Archipiélagos Ltda. Is another of the local airlines that has its facilities in La Paloma. Its aircraft are the Britten-Norman BN-2B-27 Islander, Cessna T303 Crusader and R172K Hawk XPII. Its main route is between Puerto Montt and Ayacara (SCAY), with at least three daily frequencies. It also operates the alternative in Poyo (SCYO).
Other locations covered by Archipelagos are El Frío, Llanada Grande, Pumalín Park or Segundo Corral. This airline is also willing to make charter flights to other locations inside and outside the region.
Pewén Servicios Aéreos is the most recent operator within the region. He started his activities in 2009 with Piper PA-31T Cheyenne for air ambulance nationwide. Marcel Marchant took over both the Patagonia Airlines facilities, and the two Cessna 208B Grand Caravan operated by her, inaugurating its regional line in October 2010.
Its main destinations are Quellón, Melinka and Santa Bárbara; in the case of the latter two, with two daily frequencies, depending on the weather conditions.
One more of the companies that occupy the Puerto Rican aerodrome is Regional Air Service. Its current fleet consists of Piper PA-31-350 Navajo and Chieftain who work mostly on chartered flights for fishing companies, moving divers to and from the Melinka and Puerto Aguirre area. They also make flights to fishing lodges in the area of the fjords in the province of Palena.
To finish with the count of local airlines based on Marcel Marchant Binder we have San Rafael Air Transport, which since the late 1980s covers the southern skies. In Puerto Montt it has infrastructure to maintain its fleet of Piper PA-31 Navajo and Navajo Panther, which usually fly to fishing companies in the Melinka and Quellón area mainly, as well as flights on demand.
San Rafael also flies in the Aysén Region, where it maintains a Navajo Panther Piper at the Teniente Vidal airfield in the city of Coyhaique.
A quick alternative
For those who live, work or visit the Los Lagos Region and its south, aviation is the fastest alternative to mobilize. Although the previous statement has obvious dyes, in this case we talk about a particularly close aeronautics with users.
La Paloma / Marcel Marchant Binder in Puerto Montt has become the axis of southern air connectivity. This kind of mini-hub of southern air connection has many opportunities considering this type of aviation.
This is far from being an expensive, glamorous adventure and at the service of the wealthiest, the latter arguments that have been brought up on countless occasions to attack airfields and air activity; but that they are conveniently forgotten, when you have to move a relative at risk or when help is needed after a catastrophe.