Panama's Helicopteros Personales is reporting a successful first year of operations with its King Air E90, which arrived at its base in July 2019. “We have owned several King Air series airplanes before and they have all been great aircraft,” says general manager Rafael Barcenas. “We opted for a late serial number E90 because of ease of operation and range. Within the past year we have had several changes: we sold our BN2 Islander and our Citation S550 and started looking for an aircraft that could serve runways in the 2,600 ft area but that has enough range for 700 nm with four to five passengers. The King Air was the best choice because of range, payload and operational performance on short strips, plus there is plenty of maintenance help around so we don't need to travel abroad for that.”
The operator's most popular destinations are Central America and Colombia. “Cities like San Jose in Costa Rica, Managua in Nicaragua, and Cartagena and Bogota in Colombia,” Barcenas continues. “Inside Panama, Contadora Island (with a 2,500 ft long runway), Bocas del Toro, Isla Colon and Pedasi are popular. We have been asked for longer flights but tour preference is 700 nm trips due to aircraft speeds.”
The business has been greatly affected by COVID-19: “All our personnel including pilots are on voluntary furlough until we can establish more regular flights. At this time we are attending only flights by request and those have been few. Many
flight request are from people abandoned by airlines that do not have the economic means to pay for a charter flight but when they get five to six passengers, possibilities open up and a price can make sense. There are many logistical
problems and restrictions between countries in Latin America at this time so fulfilling these requests has been very difficult, and in some cases impossible, due to government policies regarding repatriation.
“On the bright side we think regional private travel will increase based on new airport policies regarding international flights that will be very uncomfortable for business travellers. Until restrictions are lifted we can't say anything about new
A memorable trip that sticks out in Barcenas' mind was a flight to pick up 28 game cocks in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in the company's old Jetstream 31. “It was a long flight for the J31 but with an empty cabin we could get it to fly efficiently. Payload on the way back to Panama was not much in weight either so a direct flight was no problem. The J31 has
some range limitations but is a great airplane,” he concludes.