STILL FLYING: A Multi-Country COVID-19 Repatriation Mission in Latin America for 60 People

PT 3 M minute read

While news headlines focus on the decline of international travel, it’s important to remember that many essential and critical missions are still being conducted by the general and business aviation communities. Many of these missions save lives or reunite people with their loved ones. During a crisis like COVID-19, our industry shines.

Since early March 2020, more than 1,000 NOTAMs have been issued by countries around the world, closing borders and severely restricting air travel. Like a tsunami, the wave of restrictions came hard and fast, taking out nearly everything in its path and eliminating almost all options for many citizens to get home.

This was the case for a group of 12 Costa Rican citizens stranded in the Dominican Republic, 38 Dominicans stuck in Guatemala, and another 10 Dominicans in Costa Rica. These 60 citizens were all unable to get home for more than a month.

Because of the border closures, acquiring permits through the usual civil aviation and airport channels was not possible. To get these people home would require diplomatic assistance.

To get these individuals home was not only diplomatically challenging but expensive.

Cross-coordination with three Consulates

The Costa Rican, Guatemalan, and Dominican Republic Consulates came up with a plan to share the expenses of chartering an aircraft large enough to get all of the individuals home.

A Dominican Republic-registered charter aircraft would depart from the island with the 12 stranded Costa Ricans onboard. It would then stop in Guatemala to pick up the stranded Dominicans. From there, it would land in Costa Rica, drop off the Costa Ricans before departing back to the Dominican Republic with the 48 Dominican citizens.

Because of the restrictions and need to maintain proper social distancing, the timing was critical. The Costa Rican government reached out to Universal Aviation Costa Rica for help coordinating the necessary permits in preparation for the flight. Also, our team would be responsible for handling the flight upon arrival, coordinating services, and escorting the passengers safely through CIQ in the general aviation terminal.

Before the flight arrived, we were in charge of overseeing the 10 Dominicans who would be boarding the flight. The flight was two hours delayed taking off from the Dominican Republic. The citizens had been waiting for some time and were getting hungry. With no caterers available due to the pandemic, our team was able to find an open sandwich shop and bring food the waiting passengers.

Ultimately, the flight arrived safely, the returning Costa Ricans were processed and happy to be home, and the flight took off with many happy Dominicans finally able to go home.

We applaud the governments of Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala for working together to find a solution to repatriate their citizens. We were proud to play a role in the success of this mission and to see the smiling faces of people just happy to be back home.


If you are considering a humanitarian mission during the COVID-19 crisis, we are here to help. Universal is waiving all fees for trip feasibility assessments, research, and consultation services—even if we have to burn hours researching to get you the answer. Now is the time to come together as an industry, and as a community, to do whatever it takes to make these critical missions happen.


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