Political stability and a growing economy are drawing business aircraft into this vibrant, mountainous country.
A Country in Transition
And visitors used to worry about safety on the ground in Colombia. Those days are fast disappearing, at least in major Colombian business centers, as the last two governments have reached a détente, of sorts, with revolutionaries who for decades terrorized the country — and often foreigners who were kidnapping targets. With an economy growing at the rate of more than 4% a year since 2010, thanks to stable economic policies and a raft of free-trade agreements, Colombia has become a destination for business and thus business aviation.
As Costco's Lazear observed after a trip there this spring, “At Medellin there were three other N-registered aircraft on the ramp and at Bogotá there were five. I was surprised to see that many there.”
Additionally, Colombia hosts a small but growing population of locally based business aircraft, including pistons, turboprops and approximately 20 jets of various types including Citations, Hawkers, Challengers and Gulfstreams, with a G650 scheduled for delivery in November.
With an area of 439,736 sq. mi. (1,138,910 sq. km, or about twice the size of Texas), Colombia's geography is characterized by coastal lowlands that rise, much like California, into foothills and the aforementioned branches and high valleys of the Andes. (Before the construction of the Panama Canal in the early 20th century, the Isthmus of Panama north to Coast Rica was part of Colombia's territory until annexed by the U.S. at the direction of President Teddy Roosevelt.) Its elevation thus varies from sea level to 18,700 ft. (5,700 meters) at Pico Cristobal Colon, the fifth highest peak on the planet in terms of prominence.
Colombia's topography is also characterized by considerable volcanic activity — a fact of which all international flight crews visiting the country should consider in preflight planning. Major active volcanoes include Galeras, 14,028 ft./4,276 meters high, which erupted most recently in 2010, and Nevado del Ruiz near Bogotá, 17,457 ft./5,321 meters high, which blew up in 1985, killing 23,000 people, and again in 1991, plus at least five others.
Unlike many countries so configured, not all of Colombia's financial and population centers are clustered on the coast. Its three largest cities — Bogotá, the capital, Medellin and Cali — are all located inland in the mountains. A democratic republic, Colombia's multiethnic population numbers 45,745,000 with a nearly negative birthrate.
The 50-year-long conflict between the country's government and various insurgent groups — most notably the Fuzeras Amardas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC — that were funded in part by the republic's notorious drug cartels that escalated in the 1990s has been largely mitigated. Since 2006, some 30,000 former paramilitary members have been demobilized, with peace negotiations between the government and FARC commencing last year.
While efforts have been made to incorporate ex-paramilitaries into mainstream society, a small number have coalesced into criminal groups that continue, to a lesser extent, to prey on the civil population and visitors.
Meanwhile, Colombia's drug trade in cocaine and heroin continues to flourish in the highlands and cities, principally servicing markets in the U.S. and Europe. To counter this, the Colombian government has asserted its influence throughout the country and appears to be making progress in eradicating criminal elements. According to observers, what has saved the country from chaos and lawlessness is its strong democratic institutions, transparent elections and protection of civil liberties.
And this, in turn, is driving a strong economy with a GDP that stood at $500 billion in 2012. Following the signing of the U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreement in 2011, the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos has pursued FTAs with Canada, Mexico, the EU, Switzerland, Chile, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, China and Japan, thereby encouraging $16 billion in foreign direct investment last year alone. Much work remains to be done, however, including reducing Colombia's 10.3% unemployment rate, one of the largest in South America.
Among Colombia's industries are oil and refined petroleum (the country is South America's third largest exporter of oil to the U.S.), coal, chemicals, cement, gold, textiles, clothing and footwear; and agricultural products including bananas, rice, tobacco, corn, sugar cane, cocoa beans, various vegetables, shrimp, timber and much-prized by Type As everywhere, its rich-flavored coffee. This bounty of legal largess is among the factors attracting international business.