Operating in Colombia

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

Colombian airports on the north coast. Along the Caribbean coast, close to sea level, are the cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta, all seaports and business centers as well as tourist destinations with attractive beaches. Their airports — Barranquilla Ernesto Cortissoz International (SKBQ), Cartagena Rafael Nunez International (SKCG) and Santa Marta Simon Bolivar International (SKSM) — are all POEs equipped with VOR approaches, with Santa Marta also having an ILS.

According to an anonymous Colombian business jet pilot, the Caribbean coastal weather tends to be sunny and hot (30 C daytime, 20 C at night) most of the year. “On the Pacific side,” he said, “there are no POE airports, just domestic ones. Tourists tend not to go there, as the beaches are not as good as the Caribbean side, with the jungle coming right down to the water.”

The Security Issue

No discussion about Colombia today can proceed without touching on the subject of security, given the country's difficult and threatening past. As already noted, airport security in Colombia appears to be excellent. “We very rarely consider hiring guards at the places we go to,” Lazear said. “At Medellin, we parked across from the airport police station. Bogotá is a lot like Mexico, in that there are several layers of checkpoints you have to go through even to get to the FBO, so I had no concerns.”

But ask someone who lives there. “Starting about 12 years ago and continuing today,” the locally based business aviation pilot affirmed, “the drug business has been brought largely under control. Stay out of the ghettos, as you would anywhere. In the city centers there are good hotels. Airports are very safe with lots of security police. Each airport has private security and local police operating simultaneously. You can hire guards, but it's really not necessary.”

According to Lazear, who was born in Colombia, the son of missionaries, the country has vastly changed for the better. “I lived there prior to the drug and guerrilla activity. On the recent trips, I could feel the changes there, thanks to the former president. By and large, the country is safer than Mexico. As far as off-airport, we had arranged transportation at Medellin into the city [on a recent trip], as there aren't too many hotels near the airport. As it turned out, our car was a bullet-proof SUV! We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel and walked around in the neighborhood and felt completely safe. It has really changed dramatically.

“We did our due diligence with our security department,” he continued, “and our people had a fabulous time visiting coffee plantations in the interior. The economy is booming and there's a lot of business there. The coastal towns are neat, as well.”

The unnamed U.S. pilot told BCA that security was a major consideration to his operation the first time he had to fly the company jet to Colombia, or as he put it, “How much a target you are arriving with an N-numbered aircraft.” He advised operators to check the U.S. State Department website as part of their preflight planning for a trip to Colombia.

“On the ground,” he reminisced, “we asked the handler to provide us with an armored car, but it seemed relatively safe downtown where we stayed. Every main building you went by had a very serious guard at the door equipped with a sidearm. We did walk around as a crew for dinners, but when we went sightseeing, the handler provided a car with an armed bodyguard. There are areas you don't want to wander in, although things have significantly changed for the better.”

Use restaurants recommended by your handler or hotel, he further advised. “The guards at the restaurants wanted to know who we were before they let us in. At the hotel entrance, guards would look under the cars and conduct personal screening before allowing us into the lobby.”

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