The engineer who plotted the eclipse route

Marco Guzmán was one of the people responsible for drawing the special flight path to chase the solar eclipse – and now he shares details about his participation in this adventure

Erika Paixão Personal Archive

Published October 2019

Witnessing historical feats seems to be part of Chilean native Marco Guzmán’s work routine. Working at LATAM for 21 years, the vice manager of Fleet and Innovation Engineering has participated in numerous important projects, like when he was part of the team that created the routes from Santiago to Auckland and Melbourne, the airline’s longest routes and the first to connect it with Oceania on a direct flight. Or when he looked for – and found! – solutions to make planes more fuel efficient and, consequently, less polluting. 

But, perhaps, nothing can compare to the possibility of taking to the skies to chase a rare natural phenomenon. On July 2, 2019, LATAM took a group of 50 scientists and enthusiasts to see a solar eclipse up close, on a flight across the skies over Rapa Nui, created especially for the occasion. And this flight was only possible thanks to Guzmán’s work.

In addition to drawing a path that would take the team to the right spots during the phenomenon, Marco helped to plot a route that allowed the observers to see it for a longer period – around 8 minutes, three times the time of people who watched the solar eclipse from terra firma.

In 2003, the engineer participated in a similar project, when he took one of the airline’s planes to the South Pole for the first time. Leaving from Punta Arenas, the flight team boarded an A340 with the same motivation: to observe an eclipse in the region. Of the three airlines that participated in the project, LATAM was the only one able to chase the phenomenon, thanks to the precision of the route.

Before any flight, however, months of preparation are necessary. For the flight on July 2, the engineer received the project in December 2017 and, until the scheduled flight date, he had long conversations with professor Glenn Schneider, of the University of Arizona, who’s a specialist in the subject. Together, they plotted the route: “We exchanged information about the plane, speed, and altitude. With that, Schneider calculated the interception points and our team was able to plan the route and the estimated time to reach those points,” says Marco.


Two route plans were created for the occasion: one from Santiago, aboard an A320, and another from Hanga Roa, aboard a B787-9. Guzmán’s role also includes other technical aspects, like coordinating the flight from the operations control center. Each detail required extreme accuracy, as the plane must reach an exact spot, at the exact time: “An eclipse’s path is very specific. These flights must take priority over others, on traditional routes, so there are no delays on takeoff,” he affirms.

At the end of the day, Guzmán’s work is as challenging as it is rewarding. An aviation buff since the moment he joined LATAM, the Chilean native affirms that anyone in his position has to be analytical, inquisitive, and creative, always keeping in mind the safety of the flights. But between calculations, offering tools to help people realize their dreams is the answer to all equations. “Making what we plan in the office come true, helping to turn our company into a pioneering airline, is what makes me happy,” he concludes.


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