Trip Planning and Handlers
Despite Colombia's turbulent past, arrangements to visit there are straightforward and relatively simple. For example, for stays of less than 180 days, visas are not required for citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the EU and most other countries maintaining trade relations with Colombia. The exceptions are Cuba, Syria, Libya, Morocco, North Korea and a handful of others.
Likewise, an aircraft can arrive in Colombia without a landing permit and stay for a maximum of 48 hours; other than the time limit, the only restriction is that it must remain at the port of entry (POE) where it arrived, and further travel within the country is prohibited. For stays up to 15 days, a permit is required. “This will allow you to fly within the country,” Miguel Ballesteros, director of operations at International Corporate and Cargo Services (ICCS), a handling agency based near Mexico City, told BCA, “but you must list the cities you will visit on the application for the permit.”
Obtaining overflight permits can be another matter. Some operators have reported the process as a bureaucratic paper chase, while others who have employed a local handler to represent them claim the undertaking is relatively easy.
“Overflight permits are required and can be obtained in less than a couple hours by a handling company,” Ballesteros said. “For overflights, you will be subjected to air navigation fees by the DGAC [Direccion General de Aeronautica Civil, Colombia's civil aviation authority] which operates the ATC system. To do it yourself is a very complex procedure, very bureaucratic. Handlers can cut through the bureaucracy, as some have waivers or local permits to deal with the government. Good luck if you are doing it on your own.”
Added Keith Dixon, manager, training and development at Colt International in Houston, “We go directly through our handler there to arrange for them, and we've been lucky in being able to get them fairly easily. On short notice, though, it can be 'stressful.' Recently, it's been a lot smoother.”
Colombia does enforce one rather unusual requirement: Operators applying for overflight permits must submit the serial numbers of their aircraft's engines and the ELT beacon code. “Other than those,” Dixon said, “they just need to the see the normal documents: airworthiness certificate, registration, insurance, and so forth.”
As at most other countries, visiting aircraft must arrive and depart at a POE in order to clear customs. Colombia has 10 of them, the five most popular being Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena and Barranquilla, the last two situated on the Caribbean coast. “Two hours ahead of ETA the [local] handler should notify customs,” Ballesteros said. “The operator will have to show them a passenger list or GenDec [General Declaration] including crewmembers and passport numbers, expiration dates, and for crews including flight attendants, valid licenses and medical certificates.”
Operational requirements in Colombia are also fairly standard with no surprises for visiting operators. Procedures are universally ICAO Pans Ops, altimetry is QNH below FL 180, and the country has been surveyed in compliance with WGS-84. Airport surveillance radar is now common at major airports and air traffic controllers are said to speak excellent English. Pilots with experience flying in the republic say the weather tends to be fairly consistent due to Colombia's position on the equator, which lies across the southern third of the country, placing the nation within the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone.
A locally based business jet captain who asked not be identified described the overall weather picture as “not as bad as some people think: It tends to be fairly stable, as we do not have seasons since we are on the equator. Early in the morning in Bogotá it can be foggy.” Thunderstorms are common but tend to pass quickly. Ballesteros added that “There are very few accidents at the POE airports, and safety is good. There are no dramatic situations when you can risk a flight due to weather, as it changes so quickly.”