Airline Sours on Limón

December 21, 2007

It was supposed to be a one-stop flight.

The Nature Air prop plane left Tobías Bolaños airport in Pavas on Saturday carrying a handful of passengers, some bound for Limón and the rest continuing to Bocas del Toro, Panama.

At the LimónInternationalAirport, however, the flight hit a snag: There was no immigration agent to be found, so the Bocas del Toro passengers had to be returned to San José, to be processed by immigration there.

“They weren’t pleased,” said Alexi Huntley, Nature Air’s director of sales and marketing.

Neither was the airline. It was the latest in a string of problems Nature Air has had flying into Limón since the airline began daily flights there only a year ago this month (TT, June 23, 2006).

After the incident, Nature Air, which has invested $100,000 in the route to Limón, announced it would suspend its Limón flights.

The suspension was to take effect Jan. 12 unless Costa Rica’s bureaucracy can fix the problems Huntley said have caused repeated delays, stranded passengers and limited cargo capacity.

But by Thursday, the airline and the government agreed to work out the problems.

Nature Air rescinded its threat to suspend flights.

The government initially reacted to Nature Air’s threat with a snarl. Civil Aviation Authority Director Viviana Martín told the dailies La Nación and La República she may fine Nature Air about $4,000 if the company suspends the route without authorization.

“It doesn’t make any sense for the company to talk about infrastructure problems now,” Martín told La Nación. “When they did their market research to see whether they should fly (to Limón), they decided to do it with the existing conditions.”

Huntley, however, said they opened the new route with the understanding that the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE), located just up the coast from the airport, would install refueling facilities there.

That hasn’t happened, Huntley said, decreasing the amount of passengers and cargo the planes can carry because they have to fly non-stop from San José to Limón, to Bocas del Toro, and back without refueling.

“The fact that there is not fuel has meant in many cases that we’ve had to leave passengers behind,” Huntley said, citing safety concerns.

Huntley said the application for the refueling facilities is in the hands of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) – where it has been for some time now.

Meanwhile, the Limón airport itself is operating without at least one item required of an international airport: a fire truck, as required by the government’s own regulations.

“It’s an odd situation for us because we’re trying to follow what the regulation stipulates but in some senses we’re defying it by flying without a fire truck,” Huntley said.

 

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