Aero Latam Colombia

What is left of life for the Douglas DC-3 in Colombia

The symbol of air transfers to inhospitable regions of Colombia could stop operating in a short time. There are pilots and businessmen who believe that they still have airtime, although Colombian Civil Aviation prefers to insure the inhabitants of the country.

By Florencia Lucero Heguy

The city of Villavicencio, capital of the Meta department in Colombia, has one of the most magical airports for the aviation enthusiast: La Vanguardia (VVC / SKVV). This airfield serves as a gateway to the vast expanse of the eastern plains of the country, also known as “the other half of Colombia” and in which the population density and economic and urban development are significantly lower than those of “the First half”. For this and other reasons, a good part of the populations of this wide region are served by airlines and airplanes with unique characteristics that are based in Villavicencio.

A brief review of this airport tells that it was built by SCADTA, a Colombian-German predecessor of Avianca, after, for reasons of military strategy, the first airport used by this company in Apiay was appropriated by the Colombian government to install a base there Aerial, now known as the Combat Air Command Number 2. Following this, SCADTA built another airfield on the banks of the Guatiquia River, on the edge of Villavicencio.

Today this airport has a runway 2,000 meters long by 30 meters wide, radar control facilities, building for the receipt and dispatch of passengers and several hangars and infrastructure belonging to numerous airlines.

Much of the magic that can still be perceived there has its origin in the early 1990s, when by official determination all heavy piston aviation operating in Bogotá (DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, C-46 , among others) he had to leave El Dorado, finding in Villavicencio an ideal place to continue his tasks.

The DC-3

The Douglas DC-3 is an aircraft that revolutionized passenger transport in the 1930s and 1940s, developed by a group of engineers headed by Arthur E. Raymond and flew for the first time in 1935. Its design was so perfect and advanced for its era that is still operating a considerable number in different parts of the globe. Although, today in Colombia, approximately six are in a position to fly.

The DC-3s are very strong and robust airplanes, with a landing gear designed to land in difficult-to-operate places like the Amazon. That is why in Colombia they had a great role. They arrived in eastern Colombia more than 60 years ago and are currently the only air means capable of reaching the farthest villages of the Plains and the Amazon.

After the plane crash recorded this year, the question arose about the future operation of the DC-3. Measures were adopted to limit the importation of these aircraft, since Civil Aviation tries to provide security throughout Colombia and is seeking to promote a process of renewal of the air fleet in the country.

Beyond that for years the DC-3s were called the “air buses” for their cargo capacity, characteristics and, most importantly for this country, the only link between thousands of inhabitants of villages in the Llanos and the Colombian Amazon, It is not ruled out that there is a decrease in its use. It is important to note that in those regions today there are no other aircraft since their strength and robustness make them unique and irreplaceable.

If the Douglas DC-3 were to stop operating, the most affected would be the inhabitants of these regions so distant that they would suffer and be economically affected, since transporting in single-engine aircraft has a higher cost and the transfer by land is in very poor conditions.

On the other hand, it is important to note that some pilots who have been flying the DC-3 years ago, argue that they are safe aircraft, that they still have many years of aerial life.

The decision that the Douglas DC-3 continue to operate depends exclusively on Civil Aviation since they are the ones that give the guarantee.

The companies that operate today

Currently the aircraft operating airlines are Aliansa and Sadelca. Starting from the western end of the airport is Aliansa, a company already traditional there and that has had a rugged history dotted by the Colombian internal conflict. The operation of the airline was interrupted for several years since the beginning of the 21st century. However, today it has a fleet of DC-3 mostly from the extinct Viarco and decorated with lines of invasion of Day D.

It would seem strange to see the well-known black and white stripes flying in the 21st century in the Colombian tropics, but it is all due to the arrival of the DC-3 registered HK-4700 and nicknamed “Fifi Kate”, from the Netherlands and which was painted on the use of the C-47 of the USAAC during the landing in Normandy. After setting it up for the operation in Colombia, the plane lost all its color, except for the strips, which were later adopted by its brothers.

Aliansa has one of the largest maintenance areas and offices at the airport, as well as a warehouse area and engine test site built with all the technical regulations to carry out these activities.

Continuing towards the east is the Caquetá Sadelca Air Company. This company, traditional at the airport, operates a mixed fleet of DC-3. Its DC-3 is continuously rotated between maintenance and operation services, moving from Villavicencio and San José del Guaviare (SJE / SKSJ) to the rest of the region.

One of Sadelca’s DC-3s, the HK-1149, arrived in the country in the 1960s from the FAA in the United States and provided invaluable services as a radioair gauge aircraft for almost 30 years, as part of the fleet of the Civil Aeronautics of Colombia. A characteristic observation window on each side, designed for the best light input for the personnel performing the calibration tasks, still remains there.