This is how Joaquín Sanclemente Bedoya describes Douglas DC-3 for the eastern and Amazon region of Colombia.
By Florencia Lucero Heguy
Joaquín Sanclemente Bedoya was Director of Operations of Air Colombia, a company that ceased operations at the end of 2019, after decades flying the venerable Douglas DC-3. Due to his great knowledge about the Douglas DC-3, he provided an overview of the importance of this aircraft for the forgotten regions of Colombia.
What is the importance of DC-3 in the region?
The Douglas DC-3 aircraft are essential in the eastern and Amazon region of our country because they are the only means available to carry loads of all kinds, especially bulky and heavy ones. This is also due to the fact that in any other type of aircraft it is physically impossible to accommodate loads of this magnitude, because they do not have the volumetric capacity. It is important to highlight that in a large part of the indigenous populations they have schools built by materials carried on board these aircraft, also many of the amenities such as electric power plants, solar plants, sewage systems, water treatment plants and many others utensils such as mattresses, large televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and furniture in general. In addition, no other aircraft has the autonomy to fly at distances that include populations such as Taraira in Vaupés, San Felipe in Guainia and many others in the departments of Guaviare and in the Amazon such as Caruru and Pacoa. These are grass runways, without pavement and quite soft, which makes it necessary to perform the operation on the DC-3 because it is the only one that can operate on this type of runways; especially in the winter time when they are quite soft.
Why is it so indispensable?
As I mentioned earlier, the only aircraft that has economic viability to perform this type of operation is the Douglas DC-3, although currently, repetitively, damage to the engines, which are piston ones, are common. Internally they have many parts that, with the use, have wear and tend to fail, unlike modern turboprop engines that, with more basic mechanical operating principles give a much higher reliability for the operation.
Why is it still almost the only option?
Currently, we are arriving on Mars with space probes, but to date, no aircraft factory has designed and manufactured an aircraft capable of replacing the Douglas DC-3, its only replacement is a turboprop DC-3.
What type of aircraft could work in these regions of the country and how could it be profitable?
There is no appropriate alternative to replace Douglas DC-3 aircraft.
At present they are trying to cover the missing space generated by the decrease in Douglas DC-3 operations with different types that are single-engined and twin-engined, but the operating costs are quite high and make it unfeasible, commercially speaking, this operation.
Do you think the government has to intervene in this kind of decisions?
In my opinion, the national government must deal with this problem because more than half Colombia is being left short of food, of all the raw materials and basic necessities that the inhabitants of all this remote and forgotten Colombia require. Just as scrapping processes are being carried out in the car park, it is possible to undertake a crash plan to modify the Douglas DC-3 aircraft currently operating to the turboprop version through economic relief such as elimination of tariffs, soft credits and loans with low interests to entrepreneurs who are willing to modify their aircraft to continue providing this vital service.
Why did Air Colombia stop flying? Are there future perspectives?
Air Colombia stopped providing its services as of September 2019 because it began to be commercially unfeasible due to several factors. The most important was the high price of the US dollar, which is the currency in which all spare parts are purchased. In Colombia, the service provided by our aircraft is charged in Colombian pesos, which presents a huge difference and does not allow the company to continue to be profitable. In this way, it is impossible for the company to resume its operations again, unless the government takes the necessary measures and creates the economic relief mechanisms so that the conversion of the aircraft is possible and, thus, resume in safe conditions and commercially viable.