Operating in Colombia

By By David Esler david.esler@comcast.net
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

On his recent trip to Medellin, Lazear said ATC “gave us vectors for a straight-in once they'd identified us on radar. We came in off the [RNG5] STAR — a transition just to get you down to the approach. The weather wasn't too bad — but we kept it tight because of some buildups nearby. We were visual for almost the whole way in.”

Once on the ground, “Medellin is a bit of a challenge,” Lazear admitted, “in that you have to park on the other side of the main commercial apron; no vans are allowed on the ramp, and so the airport requires passengers to walk across the apron. There's all this noise and exhaust fumes from the aircraft, and just to make it interesting, it might be raining.”

On the other hand, Lazear said handlers and airport personnel were knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. “We cleared customs in the terminal; the handler escorted our passengers to the immigration department where their passports were stamped. No one came on the airplane, and there was no ag inspection.”

The older field serving Medellin is Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (SKMD), opened in 1932. Located at 4,940 ft. elevation in the center of the city and devoted primarily to domestic airline and smaller general aviation aircraft traffic, it is the second busiest airport in Colombia behind Bogotá International. It is not recommended for business aviation arrivals, as it is not a designated POE and sits in a fairly deep valley. Its single runway, 2/20, is 8,234 ft. long.

Fly the Full Procedure

Cali Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport (SKCL) is located in Palmira, 12 mi., or about a 20-min. drive from Cali. Its elevation is 3,162 ft., and its sole runway, paved in concrete, measures 9,842 by 148 ft. On the ground, arriving aircraft are directed to a dedicated general aviation ramp for parking, and crew and passengers are bused to the airline terminal for CIQ. Security at the airport is rated as high.

According to the unidentified U.S. pilot, the long north-south valley containing Cali International “starts to constrict as you go in. Watch for the rising terrain, as it's a fairly tight canyon. The valley runs north-south; it's not a complete box, but if you turn to the east, the Andes really go up high. Spatial orientation is really critical; use your modern cockpit aids.”

Katha House, chief pilot/aviation manager for UniFirst in Manchester, N.H., who captains a Challenger 601-3A internationally, lived in Cali for six months in the mid-1990s conducting jet transition training as a contractor. For operators who have not made an approach to Alfonso Bonilla Aragon Airport, she offers the following advice. “There is a string of the Andes between Bogotá and Cali varying from 15,000 ft. to 17,000 ft. in height,” she began. “Cali is 3,162 ft. elevation — that's a lot of altitude to have to lose in a short time going in there. In the daytime looking down at the field, it's clear you can't approach straight in — it's darn near impossible without having everything hanging out.

“That's why you have to do a procedure turn,” she continued, “crossing over the VOR at the airport, and going out southbound, then coming back in to lose the altitude and line up. Just as a reminder, before the 1995 American Airlines 757 crash, the controllers gave them a straight-in, but I also remind you that it's still up to the pilot to know where the terrain is.”

Today, House often goes into Cali for tech stops on her way to other countries south of Colombia. “I feel perfectly safe there,” she said, adding that it's a good idea to be able to speak fluent Spanish, carry a good English/Spanish dictionary “or better yet, “have a translation app on your smart phone.” In addition, “have all your paperwork in order, and double check that the handler has the GenDec.”


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