Friday, July 13, 2012

Landing (or not) in Pucallpa Peru

Updated 7/14

Our Star Peru flight to Pucallpa left Lima at 10:35 AM. The flight was smooth over the Andes. Below us, thin roads snaked up mountain sides to small villages. As the mountains got higher, the villages got smaller. Soon we were over the mountains and dark green jungle began to unfold beneath us. Large white thunderclouds filled the sky.

When our plane neared Pullcapa, we descended into a cloud. The windows were gray and streaked with rain. We passed beneath the cloud ceiling, I could see the runway beneath us. The plane bounced through turbulence. The pilot applied power, climbed out of the clouds and circled for another try. The second attempt was worse than the first. We flew the length of the runway with the starboard wing several feet lower than the port wing.

The pilot pulled up again. After a few minutes he came on the intercom and said in Spanish and English, "Pucallpa airport is closed because of weather. We are flying to an alternate airport."

We flew for twenty minutes and set down at a small sunlit runway. I asked the businessman sitting next to me if it was Iquitos. He said no and went back to reading his email on his Galaxy Tab computer.  We stopped and the crew opened the front and rear hatches to ventilate the passenger compartment. I got up and walked to the bathroom. The door to the cockpit was open and the co-pilot was looking at a map and talking to the pilot. The co-pilot looked very young.

After a few minutes the crew closed the hatches. The engines spun up, and we took off again. I thought we were returning to Lima, but twenty minutes later we landed in Pucallpa. The landing was smooth and flawless on a dry sunlit runway.

A Pucallpa resident who watched us try to land earlier said ten minutes after we tried to land, the storm was gone and the sun was shining.

Update 1: I liked Star Peru and would not hesitate to fly with them again.
Update 2: A pilot friend tells me that the main problem with landing at small airports (everywhere) is the lack of ground control facilities at some small airports.  Without ground control, the pilot has to make a visual landing. With ground control, the pilot can make an instrument landing.

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