Political stability and a growing economy are drawing business aircraft into this vibrant, mountainous country.
Fly the Full Procedure
Cali Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport (SKCL) is located in Palmira, 12 mi., or about a 20-min. drive from Cali. Its elevation is 3,162 ft., and its sole runway, paved in concrete, measures 9,842 by 148 ft. On the ground, arriving aircraft are directed to a dedicated general aviation ramp for parking, and crew and passengers are bused to the airline terminal for CIQ. Security at the airport is rated as high.
According to the unidentified U.S. pilot, the long north-south valley containing Cali International “starts to constrict as you go in. Watch for the rising terrain, as it's a fairly tight canyon. The valley runs north-south; it's not a complete box, but if you turn to the east, the Andes really go up high. Spatial orientation is really critical; use your modern cockpit aids.”
Katha House, chief pilot/aviation manager for UniFirst in Manchester, N.H., who captains a Challenger 601-3A internationally, lived in Cali for six months in the mid-1990s conducting jet transition training as a contractor. For operators who have not made an approach to Alfonso Bonilla Aragon Airport, she offers the following advice. “There is a string of the Andes between Bogotá and Cali varying from 15,000 ft. to 17,000 ft. in height,” she began. “Cali is 3,162 ft. elevation — that's a lot of altitude to have to lose in a short time going in there. In the daytime looking down at the field, it's clear you can't approach straight in — it's darn near impossible without having everything hanging out.
“That's why you have to do a procedure turn,” she continued, “crossing over the VOR at the airport, and going out southbound, then coming back in to lose the altitude and line up. Just as a reminder, before the 1995757 crash, the controllers gave them a straight-in, but I also remind you that it's still up to the pilot to know where the terrain is.”
Today, House often goes into Cali for tech stops on her way to other countries south of Colombia. “I feel perfectly safe there,” she said, adding that it's a good idea to be able to speak fluent Spanish, carry a good English/Spanish dictionary “or better yet, “have a translation app on your smart phone.” In addition, “have all your paperwork in order, and double check that the handler has the GenDec.”
Colombian airports on the north coast. Along the Caribbean coast, close to sea level, are the cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena and Santa Marta, all seaports and business centers as well as tourist destinations with attractive beaches. Their airports — Barranquilla Ernesto Cortissoz International (SKBQ), Cartagena Rafael Nunez International (SKCG) and Santa Marta Simon Bolivar International (SKSM) — are all POEs equipped with VOR approaches, with Santa Marta also having an ILS.
According to an anonymous Colombian business jet pilot, the Caribbean coastal weather tends to be sunny and hot (30 C daytime, 20 C at night) most of the year. “On the Pacific side,” he said, “there are no POE airports, just domestic ones. Tourists tend not to go there, as the beaches are not as good as the Caribbean side, with the jungle coming right down to the water.”