Political stability and a growing economy are drawing business aircraft into this vibrant, mountainous country.
Colombia boasts 862 airports, placing it eighth in the world in total number, 121 of which have paved runways. Of those, two have runways more than 10,000 ft. long, seven between 8,000 and 10,000 ft. in length, and 41 measuring between 5,000 and 8,000 ft.
Descriptions of airports at the country's three most-visited cities, all open 24/7/365, equipped with surveillance radar and ILS approaches, and none requiring slots or noise-abatement procedures, follow.
Bogotá El Dorado International Airport (SKBO) serves the capital and is the second busiest airport in South America with 304,330 movements and more than 20 million passengers processed in 2011. El Dorado sits at an elevation of 8,361 ft. and is surrounded by high mountains. It is equipped with two parallel asphalt runways oriented 13/31, each 12,467 ft. long by 148 ft. wide to accommodate the associated density altitude. Due to the field's elevation and hot daytime temperatures, aircraft performance can be an issue, so takeoffs at gross weight should be carefully planned. Thus, early morning departures are recommended for some business jet types to take advantage of cooler ambient temperatures.
Bogotá El Dorado is unusual in South America in that it is equipped with two full-service executive-level FBOs: Aero Support and Central Charter. Both offer on-site customs clearance — if customs officials aren't too preoccupied processing a glut of passengers at the airline terminal — and parking. One pilot reported that if CIQ isn't available due to airline congestion, the operator's handler can take passports and GenDecs to the terminal while passengers and crew relax in the FBO lounges. Once cleared, it is about a 35- to 40-min. drive to downtown Bogotá.
Lazear pointed out that both FBO parking ramps are small, “requiring a lot of juggling of airplanes. They really pack them in, and I noted that at Aero Support the tug driver was being exceptionally careful, and thus, the process was slow This was the only drawback because other aircraft might have to be moved in order to get yours out. So I recommend to get out to the airport early for departure to give yourself enough time to 'unbury' your aircraft and get fueled, the latter which was no trouble for us, as we arranged it through a fuel release from our fuel contractor.” Lazear rated security at El Dorado as excellent, adding that the Costco flight department rarely hires security to guard its aircraft in Colombia.
“Familiarize yourself with the procedures so there will be no big surprises,” Lazear offered as general advice when going into any Colombian airport. “The majority of time at Bogotá, you are landing and taking off to the south. Note that there can be a mild tailwind on approach in this direction, and about a 5-kt. tailwind component is not uncommon.” Don't attempt circling approaches at night at Bogotá, either, due to the surrounding high terrain.
“Our departure from Bogotá was straightforward,” Lazear said of his most recent flight. “It took us forever, as they are not that efficient in terms of managing their parallel runways. The airport is very busy, and when an aircraft is 6 or 7 mi. out, they will not release anyone to take off. It's one landing and one takeoff, over and over, a single flow due to the mountains.” The anonymous U.S. pilot quoted at the beginning of this report pointed out that arrivals are often assigned speed restrictions to accommodate the high traffic levels.
“Medellin is the same way,” Lazear resumed, “only landing and taking off to the north; fortunately they do not have a lot of wind there.” Which brings us to:
Medellin Jose Maria Cordova Airport (SKRG) is located 30 min. from Medellin in the smaller city of Rio Negro. Its elevation is 7,025 ft., and the field is equipped with a single runway, 18/36, measuring 11,483 by 148 ft. There is no FBO at SKRG, and as at many airports outside of North America and Europe, passengers and crew must clear customs in the airline terminal.
On his recent trip to Medellin, Lazear said ATC “gave us vectors for a straight-in once they'd identified us on radar. We came in off the [RNG5] STAR — a transition just to get you down to the approach. The weather wasn't too bad — but we kept it tight because of some buildups nearby. We were visual for almost the whole way in.”
Once on the ground, “Medellin is a bit of a challenge,” Lazear admitted, “in that you have to park on the other side of the main commercial apron; no vans are allowed on the ramp, and so the airport requires passengers to walk across the apron. There's all this noise and exhaust fumes from the aircraft, and just to make it interesting, it might be raining.”
On the other hand, Lazear said handlers and airport personnel were knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. “We cleared customs in the terminal; the handler escorted our passengers to the immigration department where their passports were stamped. No one came on the airplane, and there was no ag inspection.”
The older field serving Medellin is Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (SKMD), opened in 1932. Located at 4,940 ft. elevation in the center of the city and devoted primarily to domestic airline and smaller general aviation aircraft traffic, it is the second busiest airport in Colombia behind Bogotá International. It is not recommended for business aviation arrivals, as it is not a designated POE and sits in a fairly deep valley. Its single runway, 2/20, is 8,234 ft. long.