We interview the president of Servicio Aéreo de Boyacá, José Luis Navia Cardona, who told us how his beginnings were, why Boyacá is the chosen place and why the Dornier 228 will be part of his fleet.
ByFlorencia Lucero Heguy
Boyacá is a tourist, industrial and agricultural department of Colombia, which only needed to get the plane. Interestingly, businessmen and visitors have to travel by bus, through dangerous routes, across mountains and very slow. It was for these causes and, some more, that Juan José Navia Cardona began five years ago to dream of his own airline.
When you started?
We started five years ago as a dream, we analysed the aeronautical market and we realized that in the centre of Colombia there was only the Bogotá airport.
Why did you choose the department of Boyacá?
Boyacá is a department extremely rich in industry because it produces steel, cement, vehicle bodies, bricks, in addition to that we must add that there is a lot of gastronomy and it is very rich culturally. It is considered as the pantry in the centre of the country, because agriculture is very strong, since there are onion and tomato exporters. When we saw all this, we asked ourselves how it is possible that this department does not have air service. Boyacá has more than seven abandoned airports.
I called a friend, who has the most important tourism company in Colombia, I told him my idea and he told me it was impossible, since it was a lot of money to invest. A year later he called me and I just had to take more than 2,000 people to three conventions to Boyacá and, for that, hire buses. It was there when my friend decided to take up the idea.
How did you start?
We started to put together a team, to carry out a much more in-depth fieldwork, to talk with the tourist union, with the business union, with the mayors, with the departmental guild of the government so that, finally, two years ago it was constituted our consolidated company. That is to say, that it is already constituted as an aeronautical entity of Colombia.
For now, we rent, we do not have our own planes yet, because Boyacá has a problem, it is a department that between the 50s, 60s and part of the 70s had good airports, but it stopped investing, it has very short runways and Boyacá is in the middle of the Andes Mountains. The elevation punishes the airplanes to be able to take off with maximum weight, a yield that is profitable, the airplanes of 50 or 30 passengers are complicated because it is necessary to use them with half of the passengers.
Do you want to buy airplanes?
Yes and, to be able to carry out the operation, we need to take into account all this series of drawbacks mentioned above. When we started, we questioned about ten aircraft manufacturers, we sat down to see performances, engines, all the power part, finally, we were left with three proposals: one was RUAG Aviation, the other was Sikorsky and the other was Viking, which is the current manufacturer of the Twin Otter. When we analysed all the proposals there were many details that finally made us stay with Dornier, because the aircraft, as is not pressurized, has all the power of the engines dedicated to the thrust and allows us to leave with bigger comfort of the track, as it saves the train retracts has a higher approach speed, higher cruise speed and allows us to fly from unprepared runways, which is what we have in Boyacá, to international airports where the plane is not limited. We met with Dornier behind closed doors, we did the whole study, we saw all the versatility of the plane, we saw how it will be painted.
We are going to buy three Dornier 228. We are looking at the financing part, if the leasing goes out to have the last version or to have used aircraft upgraded by RUAG Aviation with newer instruments. RUAG was already informed, the plane colours were designed and we will continue consolidating operations and working.
What would be the advantages of the company?
In Colombia there are very good entrepreneurs who invest and, to get to the centre of the country, they only have the El Dorado airport. Servicio Aéreo de Boyacá would give them an alternative to get to Colombia or from all over the world. For example, from South America you can get to Cali or Rionegro (near Medellín) and you can continue to Paipa (which is our base) and then continue to Bogotá. This would mean starting to notice that our airports have a very clear and versatile function when it comes to working within the country.
Why do you think there is a market?
We believe that there is a market for a new airline because in Colombia we have 20 runways such as Cartagena, Barranquilla, Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Cúcuta, among others and there are more than 1500 unused tracks. There are farmers who have told us that they want to take their products by plane, since it’s very problematic to move them by road because they lose the useful life of the product, as they arrive to the market after a long journey. This gives us the peace of mind that doing things well, mixing with what they need, Servicio Aéreo de Boyacá is finally consolidated as a company with a view to initiating certification before civil aeronautic authorities, having already a much more consolidated market study in a totally defined region, with a completely defined operation towards departmental capitals. In addition, giving support to the Amazon, to remote parts of Colombia where air transport is vital. We give a very clear function to work from the Atlantic coast or to departments with agriculture products, so that they have ease to move their products to the big cities.
How many runways are there in Boyacá?
In Boyacá there are seven runways. One is El Espino, it is one of the most attractive airports in Colombia. It was where the independence of five nations, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, was initiated. All this corridor is historic, it has a great tourist attraction. Another very famous airport is Sogamoso, from where it gets all the steel production. Paipa is another, it’s tourist city par excellence, is considered the second most expensive hotel city in Colombia after Cartagena. It is very beautiful and very required for companies, since many of the oil, pharmaceutical or security sector make their conventions there. The airport of Tunja, which is the capital of the department, has a runway of 1100 meters at 8900 feet high, 300 feet less than Lukla, which is the most dangerous runway in the world. With it, we have a very interesting opportunity to show the great versatility of the plane. There is also Muzo, is the production area of emeralds, where are the most beautiful emeralds in the world. Finally, that of Puerto Boyacá, is where the Magdalena River is, which is a very important port for the transport of cargo to the coast of the country.
When RUAG knew all this, their interest was bigger, since we would show the versatility of the aircraft.
Where would you fly?
The idea is to cover all of Colombia. When you see the map of Colombia you realize that Boyacá has connectivity with the whole country. Our final goal is to become the regional airline in the centre of the country.