The requirement for additional airline routes to and from the Falklands has been an element of the Falkland Islands Government Economic Development Strategy for some considerable time. Despite the temporary closure of the Ascension Island runway, we are reassured that the Ministry of Defence Airbridge will continue, via alternative stopover airports. However, as a Ministry of Defence run flight, it will always have limited civilian passenger capacity. The only public commercial airline route to the Falkland Islands, with LATAM, is currently configured every Saturday from Santiago via Punta Arenas, but it is at capacity during the busy summer months. Whilst it is secure at present, there have been past threats from Argentina to stop it using their airspace. We are therefore actively seeking additional commercial flight routes to assist in future economic development of the Falkland Islands.
It is against this background that the Falkland Islands Government has been working on a number of options to increase capacity to and from the Falkland Islands.
The Joint Statement of July 1999 set out the basis for future flights between the Falkland Islands and the South American continent, and subsequent discussions opened the way for a regular midweek flight to and from Brazil (Sao Paolo) or Chile (Santiago). Argentina agreed that there was no impediment to these flights taking place. The attraction of these routes for the Falkland Islands is that they provide significantly improved international connectivity with the least economic risk – particularly the Sao Paolo route.
The Government of Argentina indicated in the negotiations leading up to the Joint Statement of September 2016 that their sole proviso was that the flights include a monthly stopover in Argentina in each direction (like the current LATAM flight, which routes via Rio Gallegos on a monthly basis). The Falkland Islands Government would have preferred for routes to be determined based on commercial demand, to and from Argentina as required, but agreed that a monthly stopover could be included in the planning. Argentina agreed to inform the Governments of Chile and Brazil that they had no objections to such flights taking place.
Despite positive and more detailed discussions in London in December 2016 on these proposals, the Government of Argentina has to date not advised the Governments of Brazil and Chile that there is no objection to the proposed flight routes. For fear of reprisals, these governments, and their respective airlines, are not prepared to risk substantive discussions without such reassurances. We are not currently aware of any progress on this issue.
Direct flights to and from Argentina have been suggested by various operators, but in the view of Falkland Islanders, these represent a security risk. The lack of progress to date on previously agreed actions appear to bear this out.
The search for additional capacity has created interest from several other non-Latin American destinations, in Africa, the Caribbean, the USA, Europe and directly from the UK. Shorter flights from Chile and Brazil are clearly and demonstrably commercially viable in all seasons. The Falkland Islands Government is actively considering whether any of these other options can be commercially viable, thus avoiding Latin America and Argentine influence altogether.
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