THE FIRST direct flight between Santiago, Chile and Melbourne since the pandemic landed at Melbourne Airport on Saturday.

Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Steve Dimopoulos welcomed the return of LATAM Airlines, as Latin America’s largest airline restarts its direct flights between the Chilean capital and Melbourne.

Backed by the Victorian government and Melbourne Airport, LATAM’s direct flights to Melbourne are starting with three flights a week.

The flights will better connect Victoria to Santiago, a major hub in Latin America, as well as other key markets in the region including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

The government said there are growing opportunities in the region for Victorian businesses in industries like agri-food, energy, mining and minerals.

A statement from the Victorian government said the flights would have a freight capacity of more than 1560 tonnes per year on the Boeing 787-900 aircraft on the route.

Melbourne Airport chief executive officer Lorie Argus said the resumption of flights between Melbourne and Santiago brings the number of international carriers flying into Melbourne back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Prior to Covid-19 we had 36 airlines operating international flights into Melbourne Airport and returning to that number has taken hard work from our team and the Victorian state government,” Ms Argus said.