Business Aircraft Ops to Panama – Part 1: Airports, Handling & Local Area
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on operations to Panama.
Panama is a welcoming operating environment for general aviation (GA) with full handling, support services, aviation fuel and credit arrangements available at larger destinations. However, additional planning and caution is advised to ensure all needed support services will be available at smaller and secondary destinations in the country.
The following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Popular airports
The most popular airport in Panama for tech and destination stops is Panama City (MPTO). This is a 24/7 airport of entry (AOE) with full services, customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ) clearance, and long runways: 8,800 and 10,006 ft. Be advised that normal ground handler operating hours here are 0800-1700 local, but overtime is available upon request for an additional charge.
Panama City Marcos Gelbert (MPMG) is located closer to the city center and is a popular destination stop for Panama City. MPMG is an AOE with a 5,900 foot runway, no ILS, and normal operating hours of 0600-2200 local. Airport, handling and CIQ overtime is possible at MPMG with a minimum two hours prior notice, and additional fees are applicable.
David (MPDA) is also a good AOE to consider with a 6,890 foot runway, 0600-2200 local operating hours, and overtime available.
2. Smaller airports
At smaller and domestic airports in Panama aviation fuel and basic services are seldom issues. However, it’s recommended to confirm other services and equipment such as lav, water, towing, tow bar, GPU and in-flight catering with your ground handler well prior to operation. Also, be mindful of specific issues or operating considerations at particular domestic locations. For example, Colon (MPEJ) is a domestic only airport with a 6,000 ft runway that’s only open Monday-Friday. While this is a handy airfield for those going to Colon, note that there’s a large hole located on the right side of runway 18. If you choose to land here we suggest insurance coverage, local services and aircraft security options be verified in advance.
3. Tech stops
Tech stops, particularly at MPTO, are quick and efficient. With long runways, 24/7 operation, CIQ availability and plenty of aviation fuel available, quick turn fuel uplifts can usually be accomplished within 40 minutes.
4. Peak periods at MPTO
MPTO has three daily peak periods of scheduled commercial activity: 0630-1000, 11:30-1300 and 1600-2100 local. During these more congested times, GA fuel delays of up to 45 minutes are possible. For timely quick turns it’s best to avoid peak periods of scheduled commercial activity. Also, when revising your schedule, avoid slotting yourself into one of these busy periods at MPTO. MPMG can be considered for tech stops during busy commercial activity periods at MPTO.
5. Ground handling
While handling can be set up quickly at larger AOEs, we recommend providing four-to-six hours’ notice for basic services, fuel uplifts and flight plan coordination. In-flight catering orders should be submitted at least 24 hours in advance as short notice requests may be limited items such as box lunches. For more particular or special catering requests, such as Halal or Kosher cuisine, plan on at least 48 hours lead time. In many cases, the preferred catering options may be local hotels and restaurants, and your ground handler will advise on recommended suppliers.
6. Aviation fuel considerations
It’s best to plan on 24 hours advance notification for fuel uplifts in Panama and to pre-confirm credit arrangements. While major aviation and fuel cards are often accepted it’s best practice to carry fuel releases and to send these–in advance and along with fuel volume requirement–to both your ground handler and fuel provider.
7. Hotels, local transport and security
Panama City has good availability of 4- and 5-star crew accommodations, including many large international hotel brands. Plan on 130-230 USD/night for 4-star accommodations and be sure to check with your ground handler on discounted crew rates. Pre-paid transport (car with driver) can be coordinated by your handler with advance notice.
Airside security is very good at larger 24-hour airports in Panama with secure fencing, routine patrols and CCTV surveillance. However, aircraft guards may be a consideration for operations to smaller or secondary airports. Plan on at least 24 hours’ notice to set up unarmed aircraft guard services in Panama.
While Panama is a popular place for international tech stops, and known for quick turn services, it’s important to pre-plan fuel uplifts and credit and to ensure you’re not arriving at an airport during times when fuel truck delays can be expected. Also, when traveling to smaller or domestic airports it’s always best to confirm specific services needed at the airport to avoid issues upon arrival.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which covers permits, customs, and immigration requirements for Panama.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to Panama, contact me at email@example.com.