A Journal, with Pictures

Central America Panama Adventure Starts

by on Mar.19, 2018, under Flying

This trip actu­al­ly start­ed on our first Cir­rus Own­ers and Pilots Asso­ci­a­tion (COPA) trip to Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, sev­er­al years before. We were very close to Pana­ma, but the logis­tics, sched­ule and cost pre­vent­ed us from even doing a flight from Cos­ta Rica over the Canal. Caribbean Sky Tours (CST) had orga­nized the first unac­com­pa­nied trip, which was great. When I heard they did a Pana­ma trip in 2017 I con­tact­ed them and then met with the prin­ci­ples at Air Ven­ture in Oshkosh in the sum­mer of that year. We orga­nized the trip, using what we learned from the first trip and added rep­re­sen­ta­tives (the prin­ci­ples) accom­pa­ny­ing us.

About CST, they are a 15 year old com­pa­ny man­aged by Rick and Pia Gard­ner, founders, who spe­cial­ize in orga­niz­ing and man­ag­ing flights to the Caribbean, Bahamas, Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca. Their pri­ma­ry busi­ness is plan­ning, orga­niz­ing and sup­port­ing cor­po­rate flights in this region, but they also do trips for groups. They are the pre­mier qual­i­ty sup­pli­er, who have the infra­struc­ture to plan and sup­port flights in this dif­fi­cult part of the world. Such things as over flight per­mits, cus­toms and immi­gra­tion require­ments, local avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions, facil­i­ties, routes and on and on, are what they know. CST col­lect­ed a huge amount of data and doc­u­ments from us to make sure that we were good for any for­eign avi­a­tion or immi­gra­tion require­ment. They have a net­work of agents and an in house com­put­er sup­port­ed group of flight coor­di­na­tors who not only plan, but also track every flight. As an exam­ple when our 12 planes where com­ing back to the U.S., CST was also man­ag­ing 18 oth­er flights in the region. The local knowl­edge CST has, plus the orga­ni­za­tions infra­struc­ture makes under tak­ing a trip like ours not only pos­si­ble but by Latin Amer­i­can stan­dards has­sle free.

So with CST’s help we announced our Adven­ture on the COPA web site and it sold out in less than 15 min­uets, with a long wait list. COPA does­n’t like to dis­ap­point mem­bers, so we asked CST, could you do a sec­ond trip, they came back and said yes, so again we sold the sec­ond trip out in 15 min­uets. So we had two trips, at max­i­mum capac­i­ty, which is gov­erned by how many planes we can get though cus­toms, refu­eled and achieve out des­ti­na­tion in a fly­ing day, which turns out to be 12 with a rea­son­able mar­gin of safe­ty. In the months lead­ing up to the trip the par­tic­i­pants received a num­ber of emails with plan­ning infor­ma­tion. Sev­er­al months before the trip the flight plans and rout­ing were sent and a month before the trip we had a tele­con­fer­ence call to go over the mate­r­i­al and answer ques­tions, so if you read the mate­r­i­al and did nor­mal con­sci­en­tious trip plan­ning there would be no need for changes after the trip began. We were in good hands and should be prepared.

So now with all of this, plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion now its time to fly to our U.S. jump­ing off air­port, in our case Brownsville, Texas. A look at the fore­cast and on the day of our planned depar­ture, morn­ing fog fore­cast at Hilton Head, and also the day before. The deci­sion fly Mon­day the 20th of Feb­ru­ary a day ear­ly. At least we could get half way if we left late, which is what hap­pened, so we spend the night in Ham­mond, LA, just north of New Orleans. This is an adven­ture trip so we start with an adven­ture. As usu­al Ham­mond, turns out to be an inter­est­ing place and we have a fun evening made pos­si­ble by a great FBO, Pierce Avi­a­tion. Next morn­ing we fly on for the sec­ond four hour plus fly­ing day to Brownsville TX. Head winds the whole way west and 30 knot gusts upon doing the instru­ment approach into our des­ti­na­tion air­port. Yes, it is going to be an adven­ture trip.

That evening we meet Rick Gard­ner of CST and orga­nize our first meet­ing at the hotel. We have our first brief­ing of the group and then go to local restau­rants for din­ner. The inevitable bound­ing of fel­low pilots and adven­tur­ers starts. Tomor­row we are off on our adventure.

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