Island of Isolation: Air Service in the Falklands

Mount Pleasant Airport (Photo: Donald Morrison from Lochalsh, Scotland - Mount Pleasant Airport, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19782278)

Located roughly 300 miles from the eastern coast of South America, the Falkland Islands has had its own unique history of transitioning between British, Argentinian, and French control. Now solidly under the control of the United Kingdom, the small island chain of 3,398 people has linked itself to its closest allies, countries, and oil wells.

For most commercial flights, passengers are directed to the British Air Force base RAF Mount Pleasant. While the Air Force base is home to a small squadron of Boeing Chinooks, Eurofighter Typhoons and a single Airbus Voyager KC2, commercial operations are also welcome at the airport. Utilizing the airfield’s 8,497-foot runway, British-based AirTanker provides nonstop service to the United Kingdom for military members utilizing 300-seat Airbus A330-200s from the RAF. The company, who is offering the flight between RAF Mount Pleasant and RAF Brize Norton, allows for military personnel to fly for free and non-military passenger to pay a fee. The flights are operated twice weekly and are the most commonly flown route from the largest airfield in the Falklands. Other flights to the United Kingdom are offered rarely using HiFly aircraft flying to London-Gatwick.

While AirTanker and HiFly both offer flights to the U.K., LATAM is the airfield’s only service to Latin America. The airline operates Saturday only service to RAF Mount Pleasant with flights to Punta Arenas, Chile with the flight continuing to Santiago. The airline currently operates narrowbody Airbus A320 family aircraft on the route.

Despite having one flight with the Latin American powerhouse, the Falkland Islands Government has pushed for LATAM to launch a new midweek flight for the islands. While it was originally met with skepticism, LATAM Brazil eventually agreed to offer once weekly flights from Mount Pleasant to Sao Paulo with a stop in Cordoba, Argentina. Although the Argentinians pushed for the stop to be in Buenos Aires, the Falklands Islands Government refused to offer flights to the Argentine capital in fears that it would rapidly increase the demand for tourism to the islands from Argentina. The flights will be flown with Airbus A320s and will start in 2019.

For the over 3,000 citizens living on the small islands chain in the Atlantic, flights between the islands are offered with government support. The Falkland Islands Government Air Service, abbreviated FIGAS, currently operates a fleet of five Britten-Norman Islanders that are used for transportation between the islands. The airline utilizes both solid runways such as Mount Pleasant and Stanley as well as dirt and grass runways like Spring Point, Lively Island, and Fox Bay. In all, FIGAS offers flights to 31 different cities and locations with most being on an on-necessity base compared to being scheduled. Of the four Britten-Norman aircraft that FIGAS use, four are for passenger operations and one is used for maritime oversight.

Outside of these fixed-wing operations, the only other major aircraft operations are done by helicopters with flights to various oil rigs. For the longest time, Canadian Helicopter Corporation has operated two Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma that flies workers from Stanley to their offshore oil rigs but a discovery of oil reserves off the coast of the Falkland Islands changed the view of oil drilling in the area. In response, the Falkland Islands Government upgraded the airfield to include fire and rescue operations as they anticipated more oil rig helicopters.

As the Falklands continue to look for ways to gain attention, they have turned their eyes to the use and location of RAF Mount Pleasant. The airport has a high cancellation rate due to high winds and flights originating from distant locations. The Falkland Islands Government has called to start looking for an alternative airfield to expand or replace the current RAF airfield. The government will look to make an airport with the same length runway at RAF Mount Pleasant while also removing the wind issues that plague the current location. The RAF has not commented on the 1985-era airfield or the demand for the main airport to relocate to a different part of the island for commercial operations.

As the Falkland Islands Government continues to move towards improving tourism and increase demand for the island, the push for more reliable service and a more reliable airfield will continue to be called into question. The island’s lack of service to the mainland is something the islands claim is holding them back and whether or not the increased LATAM service is a hit will be a key deciding factor in the future of aviation in the Falklands.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry