Hato International Airport

Hato is the main airport of Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. It lies on the Northern edge of the Island and it has a single runway. It has services within the Caribbean Region, nearby South American cities, North America and Europe. Hato Airport has a fairly large facility, with one of the longest runways in the Caribbean region. The airport was the hub of Antiliaanse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (ALM) and its successor Dutch Caribbean Airlines (DCA), the flag carriers of the Netherlands Antilles until the latter ceased operations in 2004. The airport is now the hub of Dutch Antilles Express and is the home base of Insel Air.

A new terminal was officially opened in 2006 and it can accommodate a maximum of 1.6 million passengers per year. The terminal can handle 4 wide body positions at which at which the passengers can make use of air-bridges to the arrival lounge.
Curacao has daily non-stop air services from the U.S., and daily flights to Venezuela and from the Netherlands. Curacao also offers flights to Surinam, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Domingo, Bonaire, Aruba and St. Maarten.

Some DetailsAirlines at Hato
Type: Airport (Aerodrome, Airfield)Aeropostal Alas de VenezuelaAir Jamaica Ltd.
Use: Public/Civil + Military airbaseAIRESAmerican Airlines
Latitude: 12°11'20"N (12.188853)American EagleAserca Airlines
Longitude: 68°57'35"W (-68.959803)AVIANCAMartinair
Elevation: 29 ft (9 m)Dutch Antilles Express (DAE)Avior Airlines
Runways: 1KLMDivi Divi Air
Longest: 11188 × 197 ft (3410 × 60 m)Sol AmericaSuriman airlines
Time-zone: UTC-4Insel Air International BVArkefly

Hato Airport – August 2004

Hato Airport March 1991

While on holiday to Curacao with my family, I frequently visited the airport in search of interesting airplanes, here a personal note of one such visit:

It was early morning, the weather outside was already very hot and sticky, as I climbed into my Russian built rusty jeep. As I set off for the airport, the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was steadily rising. My rental jeep was not equipped with an air-conditioning unit, so I turned down all the window to allow the wind to blow in. Driving along the narrow dusty roads passing numerous Antilles Dutch style houses I noted they where painted in a patchwork of bright colours. The rolling hills were covered with dry cactuses and wind shaped Divi-Divi trees. After a bumpy ride through this barren, but scenic countryside I finally arrived at Hato airport. After parking my jeep I walked to the open terminal and checked the big clock above the check-in counters, it was 08.45 hours…very early and in no hurry I still had plenty of time for some coffee and a spicy sandwich at the airport cafeteria.

Hato Airport or just Hato was built on the North side of the Island and has a single runway which runs alongside the rocky coastline. A single terminal building and a very modern control tower dominate the skyline. The large apron in front of the terminal is big enough to handle several wide-body jets simultaneously. Hato is home of Antillean Airlines (ALM). At the moment ALM offered scheduled jet services to many Caribbean destinations, such as Santo Domingo, Caracas, Port au Prince, Port of Spain, Kingston and Miami, using a fleet of colourful MD-80 twinjets. For the inter Island services to Aruba, Bonaire and St- Maarten ALM used two brand new Dash-8 series 300 turboprop aircrafts. They were replacing two worn-out Fairchild FH-227B which had been parked up in a deserted corner of the northern ramp awaiting sale. For its cargo routes ALM was using another turbo-prop aircraft in the shape of a Lockheed L-188C Electra. This palletised freighter was able to carry 14.500 kg (32.000 pounds) of cargo anywhere in the Caribbean. Painted in full ALM colours the L-188C was regularly seen at Miami international airport.
Also based at Hato military base were two maritime Fokker F-27s MPA operated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force 336 Sqn. These two friendships performed sea, search and reconnaissance flights throughout the Dutch Caribbean Island.

Curacao is best known for its tourist industry and many international airlines such as KLM, TAP, BWIA, Air Belgium, Air Aruba, Avianca and Surinam airlines serve the Island. Between all the heavy jets several interesting and exotic cargo operators serve Hato airport and it was this phenomenon that attracted me to spend some time on the hot and sticky ramp instead on the beach! Twice a week Aerosucre SA DC-6 (HK-3301) would arrive with a load of freshly slaughtered prime Colombian meat destined for the best restaurants on the Island. This flight originated from Barranquilla and arrived late mornings at Hato. The meat was thrown out hand by hand into a refrigerated truck. Additionally an Aeroejecutivos Cargo DC-6 (YV-501C) would arrive from Miami for a fuel stop, bound for Caracas-Maiquetia International airport. Every so often Aerovenca DC-3 (YV-670C) would come in with its single DC-3 freighter. Check out some of my pictures here on the Hato ramp.

ALM - Antilliaanse Luchtvaart Maatschappij

On the 1st of August 1964 the West Indian Wing of the KLM was converted into the Antillean Airlines (Antilliaanse Luchtvaart Maatschappij) ALM and operated as part of the KLM.
ALM started out with three Convair 340s and served 7 destinations. Next to the airline business ALM also provided catering and airline servicing for other companies making use of Curacao and Aruba airport. Main destinations were Aruba, Bonaire, St Maarten, St Kitts, Maracaibo, Barranquilla and Caracas. Due to the surge in tourism ALM quickly grew and the Convairs were replaced by two DC-9-15s Jets (ex KLM) and two brand new Fokker F-27-500 series. New destination were added and an ex Viasa DC-9 was added into the fleet. The period between 1968 and 1969 was crucial for ALM. As off the 1st January 1969 the Antillean government took 96 % shares over from the KLM and it become a state owned company. To further make use of the booming tourist industry a DC-8 (from KLM) was chartered. Now ALM was able to fly directly to New York and Miami. Later on Panama and Costa Rica was added to ALM destinations. The New York to St Maarten route (1970 to 1973) was flown with a chartered Boeing 727 from Braniff Airlines and later with an ONA Douglas DC-9.

The Fokker F-27s where replaced by a third DC-9-15 also from KLM and it became a all-jet company. Soon after a Beech Queen Air was used for small charter work. During this time (Aug 1972) a Douglas DC-6B was purchased for the cargo routes. It became apparent that on the short flights to Aruba and Bonaire the DC-9 was not cost effective. A temporary solution was found in the shape of two Twin Otter 100 series. After a bumpy start the Twin Otter became a success with the passengers and two further machines (series 300) were added.
During 1975 ALM replaced it DC-9s with brand new DC-9 series 32s. This increased seating capacity significantly. Two years later a Boeing B727 was added for additional routes to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and New York, which were mostly charters. During this period ALM grew rapidly and its personal size doubled in 1977. A year later a bi-lateral agreement between the Antillean government and the US was reached whereby ALM was allowed to take over the routes from KLM to the USA. To cope with the demand two DC-8-53s were leased from Rosenbalm Aviation. Additionally the Twin Otters where replaced by Shorts SD-330 commuter aircrafts.

1979 was a turning point for ALM. Due to the low point of the oil prices coupled with slow tourist figures and the devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, brought ALM into trouble. Additionally ALM had to deal with competing business from Eastern and American Airlines on the same routes. The DC-8 flights were halted and the newly arrived Short 330s were sold off. During 1980 the B727 and Beech Queen Air left the company and ALM concentrated on its fleet of four DC-9-32s. During 1982 ALM decided to replace some of its DC-9s with two McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, which were leased from Curacao Aircraft Leasing Comp. A 3rd example was later purchased from Continental airlines. With business slowly getting better ALM was able to purchase additional airplanes and funny enough the purchased two elderly Fairchild FH-227Bs from Delta Air Transport for the short haul routes. Due to the separate status of the Island of Aruba (1988) ALM had to take in account with another competitor on the Aruba service. Air Aruba was using two Nihon YS-11s on direct competition to Hato Airport. By early 1989 ALM was only serving 13 destinations within the Caribbean basin and to Miami and New York. During the 1990s ALM managed to stay in business despite stiff US competition and political changes in the aviation industry. Early 1991 KLM re-invested into ALM with some minor shares. But due to lack of government and public interest ALM could not keep up and slowly went into a dire situation. ALM went into bankruptcy by early September 2001. ALM was replaced by DCA an all new company using the older DC-9-32s
But that’s another story…!