Argentina's capital has come to epitomize the huge South American nation's rich, turbulent and diverse history.

Buenos Aires' evolution from its founding in 1536 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Mendoza and the Catholic Church has not been an easy one, but today this lusty multicultural megacity of some 13 million people endures and thrives as the country's political, financial and cultural nucleus. Some regard it as a little slice of Europe in the Southern Hemisphere (“The Paris of the Pampas”), a legacy of the Spanish, Italian and German immigrants who flocked there over the centuries and left their imprimatur on Buenos Aires' art, architecture, music, theater, literature and cuisine — all of which has fused with the country's indigenous native American culture to produce a passionate amalgam best appreciated in Argentina's signature dance, the tango. For if anything characterizes the Argentine temperament, it's passion.

Well, business, too, as Buenos Aires' other pursuit is high finance, the activity most likely to attract business aviation operators to make that long flight to 34o south. The economic power of Buenos Aires can be seen in its 2011 gross geographic product (GGP) of $84.7 billion (U.S.), which amounted to a quarter of the wealth generated by Argentina as a whole. Among the world's cities, Buenos Aires' economy ranks 13th, and its port on the Rio de la Plata estuary is one of the busiest in South America, serving as a distribution center for the southeastern corner of the continent through the complex river system that empties into the estuary.

Situational Awareness

Like the mythical “Field of Dreams,” if business is there, they will come — “they” in this case being foreign corporations from all over the world eager to do business in Buenos Aires. As the accompanying “City at a Glance” pages reflect, operators versed in international procedures should have no trouble navigating Argentine airspace.

Once in the Buenos Aires terminal management area, however, there are “situational” issues of which operators should be aware. While the city hosts five airports and joint-use military fields with runways suitable for business jets, three civilian facilities tend to be most popular (and practical, as we'll see) for general aviation aircraft. These are Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini International (SAEZ), Aeroparque Metropolitano Jorge Newbery (SABE) and San Fernando (SADF).

Now, to the aforementioned “situations.” First, according to Pablo Penalva, a Global Express captain for J.W. Childs Associates, member of the NBAA International Operations Committee and an Argentine by birth, the airport authorities at Pistarini International have become “obsessed” with general aviation regarding transportation of illegal drugs, having discovered narcotics on board a transient Bombardier Challenger 600, and are practically taking visiting aircraft apart with time-consuming and intrusive drug screening inspections. (Reportedly, some of these incidents have involved holding passengers outside the aircraft while their luggage was opened and inspected on the ramp.)

Consequently, Penalva recommends not using SAEZ in favor of Jorge Newbery, Buenos Aires' original airport (named after a pioneering Argentine aviator), which currently handles domestic airline traffic and international flights within South America and tends to be more welcoming of business aviation (the two airport administrations apparently are not talking to each other). While SABE is technically a port of entry (POE) only for flights arriving from or departing to locations on the continent, two options are available to operators: either fly first to another South American country — Penalva recommends neighboring Uruguay — or apply to the Argentine Civil Aviation Authority for an international landing permit.

Further complicating things this summer, San Fernando Airport has been closed due to major construction on the field until Aug. 3 (and probably later, if delays typical of large construction projects occur). This has created considerable competition for ramp space at Buenos Aires' other airports, as Pistarini administration has also banned general aviation parking during the period except for based aircraft.

In the meantime, Buenos Aires' joint civil/military airfields, Moron (SADM) and El Palomar (SADP), have been offered to civil operators for extended aircraft parking. However, Tony Garcia at ARSOT Flight Support, an Argentine handling service, advised against them. “They are in poor areas of town,” he said, “There is no English ATC spoken there, there is a lot of vectoring required to get into them, and there is no water or lav service available at either field.” Furthermore and most important, neither air base is a POE (i.e., no customs services), meaning that an operator would be required to land at either Pistarini or Jorge Newbery first to clear customs, reposition to either Moron or El Palomar, then repeat the process back to one of the POEs in order to depart the country. “So right now,” Penalva observed, “there are few options.” (In the interests of full disclosure, Penalva is a co-owner of ARSOT Flight Support.)

Then there is labor unrest, a common thread in the Argentine tapestry. “Visiting operators should be aware that currently there is a lot of contentiousness within Argentinean ATC,” Penalva pointed out. Strikes, controller layoffs, and a transfer of ATC services to the military — which is short of controller manpower due to the layoffs — have resulted in slowdowns, traffic delays and holding, which transient operators should be prepared to encounter when visiting Buenos Aires.

The irony here is that Argentina's government-operated civil ATC provider, ANAC, emerged only a few years ago to address discontent with how the military had previously been operating ATC. “Like many civil servants in Argentina, however,” Penalva claimed, “the civilian controllers came to expect raises every six months, and when the government didn't provide them, they began to strike.”

The situation has been aggravated by the temporary closure of San Fernando Airport and inability to park overnight at Pistarini. “It's a Pandora's Box,” Penalva lamented. “It's not trending well, very unpredictable. It's Argentina . . . lots of political turbulence, labor issues, strikes, refinery shutdowns and so forth since the reelection last November of the president [Dilma Rousseff], who promptly cut subsidies to industry and the frequent raises to government employees. With San Fernando open again, the congestion should decrease. But the situation is in flux, so plan accordingly. All this speaks to the necessity of working closely with your handler.”

Take Extra Fuel

So be prepared to drop and reposition. “I recommend that operators carry a lot of fuel and file for Montevideo, Uruguay (SUMU), or Cordoba, Argentina (SACO),” Penalva said. Serving the second largest city in Argentina, SACO is a well-equipped airport with English-speaking controllers — but it's an hour away. “Another alternate, if Newbury has no parking, is Rosario, Argentina (SAAR), about 40 min. away,” Penalva continued. “It is the only airport in the country with a dedicated general aviation FBO, a small general aviation terminal in this case, based on the west side of airport. You have to let them know when you're coming so they can have the CIQ people there in advance.”

Coming in from any location other than Uruguay, operators will need the aforementioned permit for a general aviation aircraft to operate internationally. For planning purposes, Penalva advised, “Be aware that if the weather is crappy in Buenos Aires, it's generally the same in Uruguay. So where will you go? The point is to carry extra fuel so, if the situation changes, you have enough fuel to make it to Uruguay or one of the other alternates. And be sure to have the handler standing by wherever you're going.”

Garcia at ARSOT added some information about Jorge Newbery's slot process, specifically, that if airport volume is high, slots will be assigned when flight plans are filed with the field's dispatching office. “It is highly recommended to file the ICAO IFR flight plan at least 24 hr. prior to intended departure time to have a chance of getting a slot corresponding to the ETD,” he said.

On the street in Buenos Aires, visitors should exercise the usual cautions necessary to remain safe in a large city with a lot of poverty. During Argentina's monetary collapse a decade ago, street crime was rife; however, recent visitors said that as the economy has improved, crime has been significantly reduced.

The second largest metropolitan area in South America after São Paulo, Buenos Aires is classified as an “autonomous city,” a designation conferred in 1994 via a constitutional amendment that ended centuries of political infighting. Portenos (“people of the port,” the name accorded Buenos Aires citizens) are now able to elect their mayors, who previously were appointed by the republic's president.

The city, noted for its stunning European architecture, boasts the highest concentration of theaters in the world and many museums. Its Teatro Colon Theater, completed in 1908, continues to host world-class opera. This is a city literally imbued with art and culture.

On the other hand, from the start, Buenos Aires' history has been characterized by assaults and incursions by outside forces, military coups, dictatorships, revolutions and civil strife. The 20th century alone witnessed the Peronist era — so named for the reigns of Juan Peron, who served as president from 1946 to 1955, and then again from 1973 until his death the following year when he was succeeded by his third wife, Isabel, who was then deposed by a coup in 1976. Person's first presidency ended with a breakaway military faction bombing of the city's principal plaza, killing 364 people and ultimately forcing Peron into exile. After his death and the military coup that unseated his widow, there came the atrocities of the so-called “Dirty War” in which the military slaughtered thousands of Argentine citizens who then “disappeared.”

Few could forget the wrenching silent demonstrations of mothers and wives of the "desaparecidos," the disappeared, that went on in Buenos Aires for years after democracy was restored to Argentina. Thirty years later, attempts at reconciliation continue.

Returned to the status of constitutional republic, the travails of Argentina and Buenos Aires still weren't over, with the country weathering the severe devaluation of its currency during the last decade. But after a slow recovery, the economy has restored itself, the business climate has improved, and the Paris of the Pampas prevails. BCA

City at a Glance: Buenos Aires

City: Buenos Aires

Country: Republic of Argentina

Status: Capital, largest city and financial center

Country visa requirement: Pilots arriving with their aircraft are exempt; passengers, cabin attendants and mechanics must have visas; tourist visas acceptable. Stamped visas good for between five and 10 years. Pilots arriving via airlines (i.e., deadheading as passengers) are required to have visas. U.S., Canadian, U.K. and Australian citizens must obtain so-called “reciprocity visas,” good for multiple visits for 10 years; fee is approximately $160.

Landing permit requirement: Yes, an international landing/departure permit is required; however, only for SABE (see below) except if arriving from Uruguay.

Sponsor letter required: No

Aircraft documents required: Airworthiness certificate, registration, worldwide insurance certificate; pilots must present licenses and current medical certificates.

Any other requirements for visiting aircraft: No (and no cabotage issues)

Carbon trading requirement: No

ATC procedures: ICAO

Any unique procedures: At majority of airports in Argentina, must request engine start, and clearance will be delivered taxiing out.

Altimetry: QNH

Meters or feet: Feet

RVSM: Yes

WGS 84-compliant: Yes

Local navigator required: When operating to an airport within Argentina that has no English-speaking controllers, if crew cannot speak Spanish, services of a pilot/interpreter will be required. (This does not apply to Buenos Aires airports, where English is spoken. Operators planning trips to other locations within the country should check with their handling services beforehand to determine whether an onboard pilot/translator will be necessary and how to arrange for one.)

Airport(s):

Airport #1

Name & ICAO identifier: Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini International Airport (SAEZ)

Coordinates: 34o 49' 20”S, 58o 32' 09”W

POE: Yes

Elevation: 67 ft.

Runways: 11/29, 10,827 ft. x 197 ft., asphalt (PCN 082RBWT); 17/35, 10,187 ft. x 148 ft., asphalt (PCN 070RBWT); both ILS-equipped

Slots: No

Curfew: No

FBOs: Not in the traditional sense; handling services, e.g., ARSOT Flight Services

Clear CIQ at: General aviation aircraft are directed to park at a very remote north apron called “Chivatos” located at the end of Taxiway J. Customs and police inspectors meet aircraft and perform extensive screening, often with dogs, before allowing disembarkation. Occupants (including crew) are required to remove all personal belongings from aircraft, and crew and passengers are then barred from access to the aircraft until departure. Passengers and crew then transported via bus to main terminal for final customs clearance. During this final process, CIQ officials check that reciprocity visa fee has been paid or verified on each passport from previous visits.

Parking: See above. Aircraft must remain parked at north (Chivatos) apron for duration of visit — assuming parking is available (see Remarks and text).

Hangarage: Rare and only if a based aircraft is away and hangar is available

Fuel: Jet-A; Shell, Esso, YPF

Credit: Fuel cards with pre-arranged fuel release

Maintenance: Only line maintenance

Lav service: Yes

Catering: Airlines and hotel

Fees: Landing, parking, handling

Security: Airport security effective; guards unnecessary

Ground transportation: Luxury vans, limos and cars

Distance and driving time to downtown: Approximately 14 sm/22 km; 50 to 90 min., depending on traffic

Airport #2

Name & ICAO identifier: Aeroparque Metropolitano Jorge Newbery Airport (SABE)

Coordinates: 34o 33' 32”S, 58o 24' 59”W

POE: Yes, only for flights to and from Uruguay unless an international landing permit is obtained from the Argentinean CAA to operate from any country other than Uruguay.

Elevation: 18 ft.

Runways: 13/31, 6,890 ft. x 131 ft., concrete (PCN 050RBWT), ILS

Slots: Yes, sometimes on departures only and due to volume

Curfew: No, however, frequent runway closures between 0300 and 0830 UTC; check NOTAMs.

FBOs: No traditional FBO but handling services and general aviation terminal (west side of airport)

Clear CIQ at: Passenger and crew bussed to general aviation terminal on west side of airport, a short ride from GA parking area; customs clearance is fairly brief.

Parking: West side of airport near general aviation terminal

Hangarage: Yes, upon availability

Fuel: Jet-A; Shell, YPF

Credit: Fuel cards with pre-arranged fuel release

Maintenance: Line maintenance

Lav service: Yes

Catering: Airlines or hotel

Fees: Landing, parking, handling

Security: Airport security effective; guards unnecessary

Ground transportation: Luxury vans, limos and cars

Distance and driving time to downtown: 3 sm/5 km.; 20 min., depending on traffic

Airport #3

Name & ICAO identifier: San Fernando Airport (SADF)

Coordinates: 34o 27' 11”S, 58o 35' 23”W

POE: Yes

Elevation: 10 ft.

Runways: 5/23, 6,253 ft. x 98 ft., asphalt (PCN 018FCXU)

Slots: No

Curfew: No

FBOs: Handling services

Clear CIQ at: Aircraft directed to main apron in front of airline terminal, and occupants walk to CIQ in terminal; clearance averages 15 min.

Parking: Main apron or hangar area

Hangarage: Yes, depending on availability

Fuel: Jet-A; Shell, YPF

Credit: Fuel cards with pre-arranged fuel release

Maintenance: Line maintenance

Lav service: Yes

Catering: Hotel and private

Fees: Landing, parking, handling

Security: Unnecessary

Ground transportation: Luxury vans, limos and cars

Distance and driving time to downtown: 16 sm/25 km.; 40 to 60 min., depending on traffic

Remarks: SADF closed minimum June 11-Aug. 3, 2012, and possibly longer for construction; no parking/RON for general aviation aircraft at SAEZ during same period or longer; and all other Buenos Aires airports parking-saturated by locally based aircraft temporarily moved from SADF. Additionally, ATC strikes due to labor unrest common; expect delays and holding. Transient operators advised to carry (tanker) as much fuel as possible for foreseeable future. See text for details.