Did You Know Only One Plane Can Fly To Easter Island At A Time?

Filed Under: Travel

Yesterday I posted about the one aspect of flying which still makes my mind race. Specifically, flying over large bodies of water without diversion points. Some people tried to comfort me and say that flying is safer than driving, etc. I also recognize that planes have ETOPS certifications, where in the event of an engine failure they could safely divert.

I guess I didn’t express myself clearly, because I’m not actually scared when flying over large bodies of water. I just find the whole concept of being overwater for thousands and thousands of miles to still be a miracle of sorts. It doesn’t actively concern me, but rather it’s something I think about in the back of my mind. The post generated some interesting discussion, the most interesting of which had to be about Easter Island.

For those of you not familiar with Easter Island, it’s a very small island in the middle of the South Pacific, roughly halfway between Santiago and Tahiti. It’s an extremely secluded area, with virtually no diversion points.


Reader tim left the following comment:

Fly LAN to Easter Island sometime. I dare you!

We were delayed by six hours. Due to Air Traffic Congestion. Meaning, in this case, there was one single plane several hours away from touching down. LAN airlines bought everyone day rooms at the hotel and two hotel meals.

Pilots get final weather report and are 100% committed to land once they pass a ‘decision point’ or ‘point of no return’.

It is so ridiculously remote that ATC will not even consider allowing another flight to divert to Easter Island…. Because it could crash, leave debris fail to vacate the runway, etc for the life-or-death plane full of passengers already last the decision point. (a few planes name ICL as a diversion point but this is carefully orchestrated, so that there is never a chance of more than one aircraft past the commitment point.

At first it sounded a but farfetched, though I found multiple sources referencing this, including PPRuNe:

The Chilean CAA has a policy that only 1 aircraft can be operating between the ETPs from the mainland or to Tahiti. In other words, once inbound from Tahiti and past the ETP, an aircraft cannot be released from Chile until the airborne has landed. Or, if you depart Easter Island for the mainland, the flight has to be past the ETP and committed to landing on the mainland before another flight will allowed airborne or past its ETP and committed to land at Easter Island. One at a time.

“ETPs” refers to “equal time points,” meaning the point at which you’re closer to your next diversion point than turning around. That’s to say that two planes could be operating to Easter Island at the same time, assuming one was an hour from landing in Easter Island, while the other was just an hour from taking off in Santiago, since the latter plane could still turn around if the former plane has issues.

But you can’t have two planes going there at once without alternatives, in the event that something happens and the runway ends up being obstructed, preventing another plane from landing.

Fascinating stuff, eh?

  1. I can’t say I’d thought about it previously, but the reason is a fairly good one. There’s not even a taxiway you could put it down on in the worst case scenario!

  2. I sat next to an traffic controller based out of IPC on a flight to Bangkok last year. apparently they get a ton of extra money to work out there. the rules don’t seem so far fetched after all there is only one runway on the island. fascinating island though I got bored after about a day there.

  3. Seems silly…. As soon as one plane needs to divert, redirect all other aircraft out if the area and towards their origin or destination. The chance that two planes in the area need to divert at the same time is astronomical.

  4. “For those of you not familiar with Easier Island”

    I believe you meant Easter Island? 🙂

  5. I assume the same requirements will be in place for Saint Helena (HLE) Airport when they finally open it. It is a single runway and the two closest diversion points will be ASI on Ascension Island (800 miles) and SDD in Angola (1300 miles).

  6. @Phil

    I believe ASI is still closed for civilian traffic and can not be used as a diversion point in flight scheduling.

  7. Ryan,

    I’m not the one unable to understand a simple concept. You apparently are exactly such a person.

  8. Apparently, this seems to be an extremely complicated concept to understand for some here…

  9. Makes sense. Another interesting note; as there is no alternate runway when a flight cannot land at IPC it either has to go back to SCL or carry on to PPT. When I was in IPC there was a power failure at the airport and the flight from SCL ended up carrying on to PPT after two go arounds. That’s also why they have to have relief pilots.

  10. What stupid silliness. The current runway is 9,500 feet long there’s no way a plane crash could come even close to fouling it that another plane couldn’t land. Total absurdity.

  11. I’m actually on Easter Island now, after flying in LAN premium business. Now is the low season so “cheap” tickets. 550 bucks for a round-trip business ticket (5-6 hr flight) credited to AS. Not bad! Pretty remote place, with a dreamliner and amazing runway there are way more scarier places to fly.

  12. Loved the Eastern islands but doubt its true since the “parking lot” last year wasn’t enough space for 2 additonal “charter” boings and four large private jets which parked on part of the runway.

    Like the faroe Islands its know that weather can delay flights from and to them.

  13. I was there this past December over Christmas, I know I spent Christmas in Easter island, there is daily LAN flights to and from the Island. on the second day I was there, the 787 had a “malfunction” and it sat on the sit of the terminal for over 6 days before I departed back to Chile. I am not sure how long it took them to get it out of there. I can’t imagine they can just deliver a part or have diagnostic tools to figure out what’s wrong with the plane. But I would totally recommend to try out LAN business product!

  14. Lucky

    In hindsight you should have tried this route when LAN was using 767. Such a remote airport on a napkin designed, lemon nightmare liner with so many unresolved technical issues, just wait it out.

  15. @John: I am a moronic troll, any moron can tell.
    Anyway, there surely are other routes with only one one runway diversion airport within 3 hours flight where there are numerous flights operating simultaneously… polar routes?
    I can understand the runway fouling issue though, there have certainly been many occurrences of that. But its just that the chances of two aircraft having an emergency diversion worthy event at the same time in the same area is less likely than a two engine outage that would require a ditch anyway.

  16. There are two French Military airports which can be used in an emergency only, closer than Tahiti. This has always been part of my island hoping route to South America. When it was a 767 the rules were more for safety than operational procedures. Most flights are now scheduled with a 787 especially the flights that then go onto PPT. You could do the QF Syd-Santiago which goes over parts of Antarctica but it’s a 747.

  17. If I am not mistaking there are only flights to Easter Island from Santiago every few days, so this doesn’t matter much…

  18. Don’t want tell my age, in 1977 in my Way to Australia,Flying LAN CHILE’s 767, as we’re taxing to Take off, one of the tyres dropped in the dirt and we had to be pull back to the asfalt by a small tractor. Everybody were very confident about the Take off. People crying, praying, Holding hands, the Good News we Made it.

  19. Better check your sources. LAN was running scl-ipc-ppt-ipc-scl, uio-ipc-scl, scl-ipc-uio flights in Nov 2012. When we were departing IPC there were two LAN 767s on the apron. A bit chaotic in the terminal with that many tourists.

  20. I was there on January 2015, the runaway is so long (little over 2 miles) that we had the best lading so far, I think the pilot didn’t have to use the full brake at all, so the plane didn’t shake during landing.

  21. @Willy How about gear issue/fire/engine failure on takeoff requiring an abort with the plane coming to a full stop halfway down the runway? Add a possible evacuation and now you have 250 people plus fire equipment all in the middle of the runway. Still think you can land another aircraft?

  22. I flew to Easter Island from Lima summer 2013.
    The Space Shuttle length runway was for the military space shuttles out of Edwards AFB California in polar orbits.
    There is no natural harbor so large items like a car are craned off a freighter and put on a barge to land finally on the beach.
    At that time, MDW and I stayed two extra days since it was cheaper than the visas for going through Santiago.
    Last year, a new Turkish Airline plane drifted off the runway at Katmanduh and got stuck in the mud. Airport was closed for 5 days since the wing obstructed the only runway. Nepal threatened to bulldoze it away since there were no cranes but Turkish Air had India military mechanics fly in huge airbags and pulled it out of the mud.

  23. Nelson, it could not have been a 767 in your 1977 incident because the 767 was only launched in 1982

  24. @Katherine and Ian

    Closed for civilian traffic does not mean it can’t be used for emergencies. But it will mean that you can not list it in the flight plan as a scheduled diversion point when it comes flight planning.

    Emergencies landings due to technical problems are one thing, listing ASI as a diversion so you can take less fuel in case HLE is closed would not work on regular flight schedule.

    You would need to tank enough fuel for either island holding rule or return to the African mainland.

  25. Lucky, it made my day to see my comment inspired a new article.

    LAN isn’t required to tanker enough fuel to divert to Tahiti or back to SCL either! Due to the 787 max. range, I had assumed they could do a flyover and divert back to SCL or Tahiti, but the captain said that wasn’t the case. Fuel is shipped to Easter Island on a barge for the airport and the one gas station serving the island.

    The downtown car rental outfit asked if I was going to the airport upon return… and told me to park it anywhere in the airport lot, unlocked, with keys on the dash, and they’d pick it up sometime later in the week!

    The airport does/did have a building marked ‘VIP lounge.’ Abandoned when I was there but oddly unlocked. One door connected to the gate area, the other let us just walk freely on the tarmac up to the 787.

  26. Owen, you have an extra O. The real definition of ETOPS is Engines Thrust Or Passengers Swim

  27. Lucky’ definition of ETP is incorrect. ETP has nothing to do with distance. Rather, it is that single point on the route where it is EQUAL TIME to fly to the return airport or continue on to the destination airport. It would be the equal distance point ONLY if there was NO WIND over the entire route!

  28. The place has a small population. People talk. So when the United States Air Force sent some men to survey the airport, everybody in town knew, including me, a tourist. I saw them at dinner and told them “so, you must be the USAF men surveying the airport for the Space Shuttle?”. They looked at me like I was Ed Snowden or Kim Philby and would neither confirm nor deny it. No, I’m no spy. It’s just a small town.

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