STILL FLYING: TWO NONSTOP DAYS OF COORDINATING COVID-19 REPATRIATION FLIGHTS TO AND FROM ARGENTINA
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.
Repatriating stranded citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic to nations with closed borders is complex. It requires navigating multiple layers of government for the necessary approvals. In May, our team began the challenging task of supporting two air ambulance flights attempting to repatriate seven total passengers from the United States to Argentina.
The plan was for the aircraft (a Learjet 45 and an H25B) were scheduled to depart from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, with stops in Lima, Peru, and Antofagasta, Chile, before arriving in Buenos Aires.
Waiting for a negative test for permit approval
Throughout the pandemic, Argentina has been one of the strictest countries in prohibiting business aviation entry. When our teams received the flight requests, they began working with the local authorities to obtain the required permissions.
This is a long and challenging process, requiring approval from Argentina’s Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC), the Argentine Ministry of Health, Navigation Control (EANA), and the Government itself.
Initially, despite our efforts, our permit request was denied because two passengers being transported tested positive for COVID-19. After waiting a few days and testing again, the passengers tested negative, and the flight was finally approved.
A mechanical issue en route
The departure from Ft. Lauderdale was uneventful. However, shortly after arriving in Chile, an oil leak was discovered on the H25B. The required oil was not available, so all passengers and luggage were transferred to the Lear 45. The AOG situation delayed the arrival in Buenos Aires.
Supporting crew and pax after a long, challenging day
Upon arrival, after a very long day, the crew was quite exhausted. The Universal Aviation Argentina team on the ground did everything possible to help relieve the stress of the crew. One of our team members assisted with finishing aircraft preparation. At the same time, another escorted the passengers to the main terminal to complete CIQ and health processes.
After arranging ground transport for the passengers and crew, the team thought the long day was almost over.
A surprise call from the U.S. Consulate
As the team was wrapping up, they received an unexpected call from the U.S. Consulate. The Consulate wanted to know if the aircraft would be departing Argentina back to the U.S. without passengers because there were five stranded U.S. citizens in Argentina looking for a flight back home.
More approvals needed
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as allowing the five U.S. citizens to just board the empty aircraft and fly home. Because the aircraft arrived as an ambulance flight with passengers but would now be leaving as a departing repatriation flight, we had to start the approval process all over again – with very little time.
We immediately reached out to our government contacts, and fortunately, by early the next morning, the permit was approved, and the aircraft was sanitized and ready for the new passengers.
The departing U.S. passengers were waiting early at the airport that morning, and our crew met with them to confirm all IDs and details in preparation for the flight. Finally, after two days of nonstop coordination, the flight departed, and the citizens returned home safely.
Not long after they returned home, we received the message below from the appreciative pilot.
“Greetings from Florida! Thank you so much for making our short stay in beautiful Buenos Aires a pleasant and memorable one.
The service was friendly and efficient, and we hope to return soon to stay longer. A special thanks to Mercedes for welcoming us on our arrival and her excellent English.
Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo!”