BUSINESS in Southeast Asia is looking up for a number of Latin American airlines. Brazilian national carrier, Varig, reports that its twice a week service between Hong Kong and Rio de Janeiro is now breaking even after 15 months, and Chile's LanChile and Mexico's Mexicana Airlines are also cashing in on growing numbers of business and tourist travellers to the region through West Coast hubs in the United States. But times are still tough for the airlines at home, as they meet increasing competition inside and outside their countries and have to contend with extremely low yields. Once economically and politically unstable countries in the region are now booming. But the established national carriers are having to contend with a rash of domestic start-up airlines and the likes of US giants American Airlines and United Airlines who have invested millions of dollars on establishing services into Latin America. Varig's Hong Kong-based Asian-region manager, Reno Vitale, said Brazil was capturing the imagination of many more Hong Kong and mainland Chinese. Only last week, China and Brazil finalised an air rights agreement between the two countries, which should be signed soon and could lead to Chinese airlines flying to Brazil. Union Express managing director, Dino Capelvenere, is general sales agent in Hong Kong for LanChile and Mexicana. With more money in their pockets, Mr Capelvenere said, tourists were looking for more interesting and adventurous destinations. Chile can certainly provide these. Trips to Antarctica and the isolated Easter Island are options on any travel itinerary to this South American country. But business markets between the two regions are also expanding quickly, providing growing opportunities in the business traveller and cargo sectors. NOBODY could ever accuse Saab Aircraft's newly-promoted international marketing and sales vice-president, Martin Craigs, of not having the courage of his convictions. Mr Craigs first arrived in Hong Kong in 1986 as marketing vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region, and opened up a two-man office to preach the merits of commuter air travel and, in particular, his company's commuter aircraft. He started with one customer, Kendells of Australia, which bought one aircraft. Today Saab has a large presence and has sold more than 50 of its 35 to 37-seat Saab 340s to nine airlines throughout the region. It has 60 per cent of the 30 to 70-seat aircraft market, with four manufacturers sharing the other 40 per cent. During his time in Hong Kong, he had made more than 70 trips to Taiwan and some 50 to Japan, countries which had capitalised on a much-needed market, he said. ''Domestic air travel in Taiwan has leapt from three million [passengers] to eight million [passengers] in six years, but the average number of passengers per flight has gone down,'' he said. ''All thanks to consumer satisfaction with commuter aircraft.'' He said routes between Hong Kong and large cities in China, where passengers have to book weeks ahead to be assured of a seat, were crying out for a similar service.