As we lined up on the centerline and started bringing the torque up to redline, our journey from Harlingen, Texas (KHRL) to San Jose, Costa Rica (MRPV) in a brand new AT-504 was underway. While acting as PIC, I was accompanied by ag/ferry pilot Pat Kornegay, as it was my first delivery flight to South America and his knowledge of the region (and the Spanish language) is nearly unmatched. The air was cool and dense as we climbed towards the Mexican border with 560 gallons of jet fuel on board. Our route took us down the Gulf Coast of Mexico and through a mountain pass from Veracruz to Itzepec before keeping the Pacific Ocean on our right wingtip for the rest of the flight.
The first day we arrived at Tapachula, Mexico, which was a little more than the halfway point of our journey and just under six hours of flight time. We were greeted there by Capitan Vazquez of Associates Rural de Interes Colectivo Servicos Agricolas Bananeros de Tapachula and some of his crew.
Capitan Vazquez operates a fleet of six AT-401s which are kept in immaculate condition with facilities and personnel to match. All the aircraft are maintained in-house by their certified mechanics. With each aircraft being flown about 700 hours annually, having maintenance personnel standing by is a must.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the region, headed to the coast to relax and enjoy a full dinner spread of delicious fresh seafood. The next morning, we threw our bags back in the aircraft and had the engine spinning at sunrise for the second leg of our trip. We departed to the south and followed the coastline for the remainder of the flight until we had to turn east over land toward San Jose, Costa Rica.
The scenery during the flight was gorgeous, even someone who didn’t grow up on the coastal plains would have to agree with that. The highlight of the flight, for me at least, occurred as we flew down the coast of Guatemala. The mountain range through southern Mexico and Central America consists of many active volcanoes.
As we continued southbound, Mr. Kornegay reveled me in stories of working in the area at the beginning of his career, mainly in Nicaragua. At my age, I would be hard pressed to turn down a job that involved huge cotton fields at the base of a dormant volcano with turns being made over the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Fonseca. The rest of the flight was quite uneventful with the exception of some strong wind gusts as we were descending into the city.
With the AT-504 safely on the ground at Tobias Bolaños International Airport, it was time for the formal delivery. We were met by Christian Castillo Ramos, the general manager of El Colono Agropecuario, who had purchased the aircraft. With nearly 2,000 employees spread across Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama, El Colono provides zero-inventory solutions and turnkey products for a majority of growers in the region.
Serial number 504-4029 was the company’s fourteenth Air Tractor added to an already extensive fleet. With a handful of Ag-Cats and two helicopters concentrating on the treatment of rice and smaller fields, the Air Tractors are used exclusively for banana operations. Conducting weekly applications and year-round work, each Air Tractor is typically logging around 900 hours annually. Christian truly has developed a phenomenal operation managing the quality of El Colono Agropecuario’s work, even down to training pilots in-house from the ground up, ensuring the highest levels of performance and results. As their business continues to expand, they are looking at adding even more aircraft in the future! El Colono Agropecuario with Christian Castillo Ramos at the helm really is a sight to see and we look forward to what the future has in store for them. From myself and everyone else at Lane Aviation and Air Tractor, we wish them the best and blue skies!