I’m excited about this trip because I get to fly deep into South America. I’ve been to Columbia, and that does qualify as a “South American trip”, but I didn’t get to look around and see the topography, terrain, or culture. For this trip I’m going to fly over much of South America and really get to see the continent.
I started this trip with a bit of anxiety because this is a Fusion-equipped King Air and my experience with the Fusion is limited. So, days prior I spent quite a bit of time beefing up my knowledge of the Fusion by watching YouTube videos and reading about the Fusion. I even arrived early to the airplane so I could play with the Fusion on the ground prior to the flight.
I met Gustavo Nunoz, a Buenos Aires-based captain who was to be the full-time pilot for this nearly new King Air 350i in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The new owner had purchased this 350i and Gustavo and I were to team together to take it to his hometown in Argentina.
We had a few customs obstacles to overcome at Tampa Bay, FL (KTPA), our launching point, but they were few and easily handled. The departure from TPA was otherwise non-eventful, and both of us dutifully started pushing buttons on the Fusion avionics to reacquaint ourselves with the nuances of this outstanding avionics system.
Before I get too far along, I need to relate that I really do like the Proline Fusion. It is far more intuitive than the Proline 21 and is a great competitor to Garmin. The huge screens are easy to navigate, the buttons and knobs in the lower section are designed to be touched by the hand while looking at the big screens for an eyes-up focus, and the clarity is outstanding. Plus, the ancillary attached equipment (radar, TAWS, traffic, etc) are exceptionally presented. As the flight progressed, the unbelievably clear radar was particularly helpful in the Central American thunderstorm-dense weather.
We flew over Cuba and over the Gulf of Mexico in the clear and smooth air at FL310, but as we got closer to Panama (MPTO) the skies darkened and we were solid IMC for the last 1.5 hours of the flight. The handler at MTPO took us to the airline area of the field so we could get some lunch at the terminal. I paid $17 for a Quizno’s sandwich, which I thought to be exorbitant, but I was hungry and didn’t care. Soon, both pilots and the airplane were fueled and we were again in the mighty King Air 350i launching up to FL350 on the way to Trujillo, Peru (SPRU).
Partly to get above the weather, partly because of the fuel savings, and partly just to see if this King Air 350i would make it to FL350, we flew as high as possible. The King Air 350 will go to FL350, but the rate of climb will be paltry (500 fpm at +20c ISA) and the cruise speed slow (270 KTAS), but the fuel burn was only 230#/side and we had no troubles with the long range required. There were many thunderstorms to navigate between Panama and Peru, and the radar proved to be ridiculously easy to operate, and clearly showed us what we needed to know. Our path was snake-like through those towering thunderstorms.
As we came upon Peru the thunderstorms decreased and the the sun began to set. As we came over the Andes Mountains the scene below became black with night. We were not able to communicate with ATC easily, and decided to keep our descents slow to ensure we had proper clearance over those rugged mountains below. The Synthetic Vision (syn vis) on the Fusion was super-clear, and although our naked eye could not see the mountains below, we knew there were present because we could see them on the syn vis. The Andes Mountains are stunning looking in both the real world from above and the synthetic world in the cockpit.
The landing in Peru was uneventful, but it took a long time to be refueled. They did not have fuel trucks, but rather fueled from ground ports. It was clumsy and difficult in the dark, but we did not want to risk being delayed in the morning with fueling. We had a nice dinner at the hotel and then I watched the LA Lakers beat the Dallas Mavs in overtime (very sad…I like the Mavs). It was fun to watch the game live while listening to the Spanish-speaking announcers. I slept more than 8 hours, which is a LONG sleep compared to what I normally get each night.
The breakfast at the hotel was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. The selection was incredible and the presentation stellar. Soon we were in the taxi on the way to the airport, and I got to see Peru better for it was now daytime. It took over an hour to run through the gauntlet of logistics at the airport, and all of this culminated in my paying $2600 in fees. $2600!!! Holy crap!!! That’s not the charge for the fuel, that is simply fees.
(Written airborne between Peru and Chile…) Sorry about this rant, but I’ve got to do it. It amazes me to see a culture that allows stealing. When I see Peru I see really nice people in a beautiful land who live in far lower economic conditions that they should have to live. I think it is because of the over-charging (stealing) that occurs widespread. They have simply killed the goose that lays the golden eggs. We landed in MPTO because we needed to due to winds, weather, distance, and location…but I’ll never in my life go there again because all I remember about Peru is getting screwed at the airport. I could easily pack my family up and come to Peru for a nice vacation and bring my vacation dollars with me. But I shall not. Why? I don’t like getting screwed. There were virtually no other airplanes on the huge ramp at MPTO because of the logistical gauntlet that had to be negotiated and the fees that were required. So, a few people got a relative few dollars from me, but no one else comes to Peru with their airplane, and no one operates airplanes in Peru because of the cost. No kids in Peru have a chance to learn to fly, none will become pilots for a living, none can look to the skies to dream of a career in aviation. The aviation goose is dead in Peru.
And the aviation goose is dead and still being beaten all over again in many countries all over the world. Unfortunately for the South Americans, so far everywhere I’ve been in South America has high fees, no opportunity, and no aviation future. It really saddens me deeply because I see FBOs in the USA that use their monopolistic position to do the same in the USA. Every time I take a trip overseas, I’m reminded of the desperate need we have in the USA to fight against predatory FBOs, airport authorities that create the monopoly by eliminating competition, and airport managements that are more than happy to charge fees but not return any benefit to the consumer. I guess I had hopes that the goose would be alive in South America, but it appears that the only place where the goose is alive in the USA, at least for now. Rant over…sorry…
(Written between Chile and Argentina) OK…I just had another airport experience at Iquique, Chile (SCDA), so I’ve got to open that rant back up. But, this should provide some visibility onto the issue at hand. Gus landed at SCDA and pulled into parking. There were no handlers in sight, and the people who handle the airliners came by to advise that they could not help us. The refuel guy came and did refuel the airplane in a timely manner, which was really nice.
But, another guy showed up in a truck and advised that we had to “go pay the fee” and then drove away. So, yet another guy showed up in another truck and drove me 10 minutes to the other side of the airport (at an alarmingly slow pace) to the office labelled “Jefe de Airport” (airport boss). The man and lady (I assume one of them was the Jefe) handed me a nicely printed computer copy of my flight plan and asked that I hand-write it onto anther form (which I did). Then, he advised that I needed to “go to customs” to “get a stamp on the flight plan.” I was then charged $63, of which they did not have change. There was a definite language barrier as neither of us spoke each other’s language, but I somehow related, “I’ll trade you those two dollars for a coke.” All laughed and I went back to the truck to get the stamp on the flight plan.
The guy then drove me to the terminal building (another 10 minutes) where I was escorted to customs. No one spoke English, and I could not speak Spanish, so we tried our best to figure out what the other wanted. Finally, a nice lady came who did speak both languages and I figured out that the customs lady needed “the aircraft paperwork.” I didn’t know what she needed, but finally figured out that she needed various info about the airplane, including the engine type. I told her about my trusty PT6 engines, but she did not believe me. So, after standing at the desk for about 15 minutes she secured the help of a guy standing in the background leaning on a broom. He had no clue what engines were on any airplane, or even what an airplane engine looks like. But, his services were garnered to escort me back out to the airplane so he could find “PT6” written somewhere on the engines.
We went through security and finally made it back to the airplane. We debated there for about 5 minutes, and just about the time I was going to search for a screwdriver to remove the cowlings in hopes of finding “PT6” written on the engines, Gus produced a piece of paper from the logbooks that had “PT6” written on it. The “inspector” finally ratified that we really did have PT6 engines, pulled out a stamp, stamped the paper on the side of the airplane, and headed it gruffly back to me. So, now we had the stamp, but we were 90 minutes late from our planned takeoff time. So, we drove back to the Jefe’s office on the other side of the airport where the stamped form seemed to make everyone happy. Then, surprisingly, the lady from behind the counter pulled out two ice-cold cokes and handed them to me. It was a wonderful gesture! I really needed a nice gesture as I was ready to scream after all the stupidity I’d experienced in the last 2 hours. I opened both ice-cold Cokes and gave one to the driver who drove me back across the airport to the airplane. The guy spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish, but we were both connected by the cokes on the slow drive back to the airplane, and somehow I had a smile on my face while I quietly enjoyed the coke with my new friend who could not talk with me. The Coke was our only glue in the friendship. It brought new meaning to “have a Coke and a smile.” Two hours late, we got our clearance and departed.
For those who think ferry flying sounds like a “dream job,” scenes like to one I just described tend to be the “rule of the day.” Flexibility and the ability to manage your temper when stupidity reigns free is absolutely required. And, logistical nightmares like this is why general aviation is dead and dying in South America. There is simply no way that aviation can be afforded, either financially or time-wise. The system simply won’t allow for that teenager to dream about the day that he/she advances the throttles on an airplane. It simply cannot happen because of the system. The people? Friendly, nice, congenial, wanting more. The system? Completely broken. Rant over…for real.
We departed Chile and I was blown away by the vastness of the desert that is Chile. There’s literally not a blade of grass…nothing green for much the Chile I flew over. It was incredibly beautiful, but super dry. I would definitely like to come back and explore the Chilean side of the Andes mountains. The sparse population, vast openness, and rugged beauty reminded me of Alaska in the sense that this too could have the title of “the last frontier.” It is a place I’d like to visit again.
There were many thunderstorms on the Argentina side of the Andes, and we weaved back and forth at FL350. We were still mostly in solid IMC for much of the last leg of the journey, but as the sun went down the clouds also broke upon to clear skies. We had a perfect view of the grandeur that is Buenos Aires at night. We landed around 9pm, took final pics, went through security, and I was whisked away to the Sheraton Downtown Hotel.
Argentina is easily the most modern country I saw in South America. New construction was everywhere, and the city had a vibe and culture that was instantly appealing. The downtown area of Buenos Aires has a neat mixture of new buildings and old buildings, and the old ones have a cool architecture that is most impressive.
Gustavo told many times on this trip that I should get a “beefe de chorizo with pappas fritas,” which translates into “grilled steak and french fries.” I found a very nice restaurant near the Sheraton and ordered directly as Gus advised. It was wonderful…if I ever go back to Argentina, I assure you I’ll have another.
As always, the support from Shepherd Aero was outstanding. I won’t do an overseas trip without handling from Shepherd Aero…they are that good. I enjoyed my South American adventure, and I look forward to doing it again someday.