The provincial aeronautical directorates of Argentina fulfill an essential service with their airplanes and helicopters, from aeromedical evacuation to transportation and fire fighting. The sector presents a demand that cannot always be satisfied by the lack of resources.
By Florencia Lucero Heguy and Santiago Rivas
Since Argentina is a federal country, almost all the 23 provinces that compose it have their own Aeronautical Directorate where they combine activities related to aviation in their different branches to provide services to the community, which include police support tasks, search and rescue, anti-hail, sanitary evacuation, transfers, fire fighting and development of the activity in general. The country has different geographies from north to south and east to west, such as mountains, plains, mountains with large peaks, the Andes mountain range, the Impenetrable Chaqueño or the missionary jungle, forcing each one to have its own fleet particular, according to your needs. It also influences the size of the province.
The development of aeronautical directions has been uneven over time and varied according to the province. This is because each one gives it more or less priority, besides it depends on the government of the day and the available economic resources. Therefore, while in some provinces, such as Córdoba, development is important, in others, such as Formosa, they have very few aircraft, despite the need.
With regard to transfer flights, they can be defined in two types of needs: intraprovincial ones, which sometimes require the use of unprepared and short runways, or those of national scope, which generally go from one airport to another and where speed is the main thing. In addition, the need for helicopters varies according to geography, with specimens trained to operate in the mountains in some cases, as in Mendoza. In other cases, the incorporation of aircraft for VIP use has been prioritized.
In the case of Córdoba, the fleet was also given great importance to fight forest fires, with three Air Tractor 802 and a brand new Fire Boss amphibious for this mission.
For example, in the province of Tucumán, the smallest in the country, assistance is provided to high mountain schools, sanitary flights, mountain fire control and police assistance in the controls. For this, the province has two Learjet 60XR planes for official flights and a Citation Bravo for toilets and officers, in addition to two helicopters, a Bell 407 and a 429. In addition, they have an old Piper PA-31P out of order but that They hope to recover.
The small size of the province means that fixed-wing aircraft are not required for internal flights, but for long-distance transfers, such as the city of Buenos Aires, more than a thousand kilometers away, which leads to require jets with good cruising speed.
Something similar happens in Misiones, where it has been decided not to have fixed-wing aircraft since the entire province can be covered with helicopters and the tracks in general are short and poorly prepared. From the government they consider that they only need a helicopter, because the authorities are driven by airlines and buses since they are a small province and have a network of very good routes and hospitals. They operate by helicopter (Eurocopter EC135) in 100% of the territory in a few minutes.
In the large provinces, the plane can be essential for sanitary transfers, both for the distances and for the state of some roads or the relief, especially in the mountainous areas or the center-north of the country (Chaco, Santiago del Estero and Formosa mainly ). In Buenos Aires, although there is an important road network, the province is about 900 kilometers long from north to south and has many runways, favoring the use of aircraft for transfers of all kinds. Although it has an interesting fleet in its Aeronautics Directorate, with two Eurocopter EC-145, two BK-117, two MBB Bo-105CBS (only one operational), an EC-135, two Grand Caravan, a Cessna 550 Citation II, three Cessna Conquest (one in stock) and a Beech B200 Super King Air, is currently at low operability.
Córdoba, on the other hand, has, in addition to the aforementioned Air Tractor, a Bombardier Learjet 60XR, a Beech 350 Super King Air, both for the transfer of officials and sanitary evacuations, a Cessna 206 and three helicopters, a Eurocopter EC-135 and two AS-350B3 Ecureuil. They are currently analyzing the purchase of a light transport aircraft, most likely a Grand Caravan, for transport tasks within the province, with the aim of replacing the Cessna 206 in that mission, which is also used for forest fire surveillance.
With the fleet of airplanes they help to preserve the native forests, they take food to the schools when it cannot be reached by other means, they carry out transfers of serious wounds, generally lacking, they rescued many people from the High Summits and they make the transfers of the INCUCAI (the National Central Institute Unique Coordinator of Ablation and Implant). Before starting the strong fire season, the Provincial Fire Management Plan is responsible, together with some of the pilots, to relieve the state and conditions of the tracks of the province and then put them in conditions if necessary. 80% of the tracks are of grass and the rest of asphalt, the lowest are at 1000 feet elevation and the highest at 3800. As the year progresses, most of the fires are moving westward with more distant and less prepared tracks.
The example of Córdoba, although it has one of the largest fleets, is similar to that of other provinces, such as Chaco, which has a Learjet 60, a Grand Caravan, a Cessna 182 and a Bell 407, so as to have a fast transport , a slower and cheaper one but with a good capacity to operate on the tracks of the province, a link plane and a helicopter. The province works mainly in sanitary evacuation, although they also carry out medical equipment transfers in the impenetrable, support in natural disasters such as floods, transfer of personnel and officials. The goal in air evacuations is to take patients to medical units with more complex care.
The province has very distant areas that can only be accessed by land routes with adverse weather conditions that are impassable so the plane is essential as it is the only means by which it can be reached. Due to these needs, the management ensures that the most suitable aircraft for flights to the impenetrable is the Grand Caravan the Learjet that is used for transfers to Buenos Aires is perfect. At the moment, between the planes and the helicopter they own, they cover the different tasks they perform.
The province of Santa Fe does not own its own aircraft, it rents a Learjet through a public tender that is used for the transfer of the governor and his cabinet. From the Directorate of Aeronautics they argue that it would be important to have their own plane to increase the work of transfer, whether executive, sanitary and many other actions that can be implemented, but, for the moment, they are not within the priorities of the direction. There are needs, although they assure that, for now, with this aircraft and the helicopters they have, they cover the work they do. Due to the characteristics of the transfers and the tracks it would have to be one that allows to operate in short tracks of land.
For 11 years they have been carrying out a transformation in the health care system where there are very few cases that refer to institutions outside the province. In Santa Fe they have five centers (Santa Fe, Rosario, Reconquista, Venado Tuerto and Rafaela) that are distributed throughout the province with first level national health care.
For its part, the Directorate of Aeronautics operates with four helicopters. A Bell 429 that has executive configuration, used by the governor and his cabinet; an Airbus AS-350B2 with executive configuration, transfer capacity, cargo hook, enabled in the National Fire Management Plan, with search light to apply to police patrol if necessary, and can also be used by the Secretary of Protection Civil in all your needs. Finally, they have two MB10 Bo105 that are mostly used for the missions of the Ministry of Security.
On the other hand, San Juan incorporated in November 2018 a Learjet 75 for aeromedical evacuations, of which it carries out about 80 per year with its Cessna 560 Encore and 550 Citation II.
Santa Cruz, on the other hand, has a Citation V Ultra and a Beech 350 Super King Air, while Chubut has a C90 King Air and a Hawker 400XP, while Salta has bet on the helicopters, with a Bell 412EP with equipment for fire fighting and high complexity for aeromedical evacuations, in addition to a Bell 407 and a 429, while in fixed wing they own a Learjet 45 and had an IAI Arava that was removed from service in 2013 and was not replaced. In Corrientes the fleet is two Grand Caravan, a Citation II, a Bell 429WLG and a 407. The Pampa has a Grand Caravan, as does Formosa, Jujuy, on the other hand, with an AS-350B3 Ecureuil, Neuquén with a Bell 407 and Santiago del Estero with an EC-145 and a Learjet 45.
As the great impulse to the provincial aviations was given from the 60s and 70s, some still have devices incorporated more than 30 years ago, as is the case of Tierra del Fuego, which has an IAI Arava (unique in its operational type in Argentina) and a Learjet 35A, both from the eighties, or Catamarca, which has a Piper Navajo Chieftain, a Fairchild Metro III and a Piper Cheyenne II but only the Metro is operational. In that province they consider that their main need today is for a reactor, in order to travel to other provinces or to Buenos Aires.
To this varied reality, there is a lot of criticism that the greatest use of aircraft is for VIP transfers of officials, sometimes relegating support flights to the community. In many cases, the provinces have a need for aircraft capable of operating on unprepared runways, with good cargo capacity and low operating costs, allowing aeromedical evacuations or assistance tasks in cases of natural disasters, such as floods in the north and northeast or large snowfall in the south. In almost all provinces the priority has been given to executive jets, which allow rapid flights between airports, enabling sanitary transfers to large cities, but which are not very viable for use within the provinces. In this last segment, the Grand Caravan are the most successful aircraft, although in some cases their speed and loading capacity are a limitation, when it comes to operating over long distances. In other cases, the age of the fleet or part of it makes it necessary to replace more modern and efficient devices.