Global Express to Bolivia a trip to remember

 - December 31, 2008, 6:21 AM

The crew of a Bombardier Global Express operated by Germany’s Triple Alpha successfully negotiated multiple operational and security challenges during a recent trip to South America. On a charter mission carrying a party of Russian energy executives, the Global Express became the first of its type to fly out of the world’s highest passenger airport, La Paz’s El Alto International. The gateway to the Bolivian capital perches in the Andes mountains at a, quite literally, breathtaking altitude of 13,313 feet.

The departure from La Paz’s 13,124-foot-long runway provides a stern test for pilots’ professional skills and knowledge. But what made the trip harder was the fact that Bolivia is currently mired in a wave of political unrest and violence, making it an inherently risky destination for foreign business travelers. This required Triple Alpha to prepare a detailed security plan to protect its passengers and crew on the ground, and they were accompanied by armed guards from the moment they landed until they departed.

The trip started in the Austrian capital Vienna, with the first stop being Caracas, Venezuela. Triple Alpha deemed the security situation there to be so marginal as to necessitate a late change of plan to reposition the aircraft to the nearby Dutch Antilles island of Curacao.

Capt. Jorg Schumacher explained that en route to La Paz, the crew encountered some difficulties with Brazilian ATC procedures. On leaving La Paz, the aircraft was due to go back to Caracas, but with a necessary refueling stop in the lowland Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. But another last-minute schedule change meant that they instead went to the Peruvian capital Lima before making the onward trip to Venezuela.

“To prepare for the trip to La Paz we made a special performance chart for the Global Express based on one-engine-out performance at that high altitude, and we also watched the weather very carefully,” explained Schumacher. Triple Alpha received detailed advice on the security risks associated with the trip from Air Security International. The Global Express is one of three long-range jets operated by Dusseldorf-based Triple Alpha, which has been in business for 12 years, and the fleet also includes a Bombardier Challenger 300 and several Cessna Citations.