Flights return to Argentine city after volcanic ash delays

BUENOS AIRES, September 17, 2011 (AFP) - The airport in the tourism-dependent Andean city of Bariloche saw its first commercial flights arriving since early June, when ash from Chile's Puyehue volcano disrupted travel, airport officials said.

The first flight was an Aerolineas Argentinas flight carrying 140 passengers that touched down Saturday morning, a spokesman for the airport told AFP.

On July 18 a charter airline brought 120 tourists from Sao Paulo, and since then the airport has received a handful of smaller private or charter flights.

Before the Puyehue volcano kicked off a winter of air travel mayhem, when it rumbled back to life on June 4, the airport some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of the Argentine capital was receiving at the least six flights per day.

For the first time in five decades, however, the Chilean volcano belched billowing clouds of dust and ash, and while Bariloche enjoyed a normal amount of snow, tourism officials reported a marked decline in revenue compared to a normal winter season.

Flights across South America -- including from hubs in Montevideo, Santiago and southern Brazil -- had all been hit in previous months as ash clouds swept around the southern hemisphere to linger over Australia and New Zealand.

The Puyehue volcano is high in the Andes mountains, 870 kilometers (540 miles) south of Santiago near the border with Argentina.