Late October I decided to take a small autumn break before the arrival of winter. Not really knowing where to go, I decided to check the internet for cheap deals. I soon found low-priced fares to Curacao, Dutch Antilles. Having been born in Curacao I fancied a couple of days in the tropics for some sea and sun. So on the 13th of November I found myself onboard a KLM MD11 racing towards the equator. My plan was to relax, drive around the Island in search of little towns and secluded beaches and meet up with some family members.
The main town of Curacao, Willemstad is an extremely pleasant area to walk through and soak up some Caribbean atmosphere. Most of the waterfront buildings and shops are painted up in an array of pastel colours and create a special tropical atmosphere. The floating bridge connects both sides of the city Punda and Otrabanda.
The airport of Curacao, which is now called: Curacao International Airport, is also know as Hato Airport, is still a place to see numerous interesting airplanes. Hato airport has a single runway 11/29 at 3410 meters long and has a large terminal and cargo facility. The airport lies on the northern coastline and it serves as a hub for the Caribbean and South American region. Its history goes back from the early 1930 when KLM Royal Dutch Airlines started flying to the Antilles with Fokker Tri-motors. Up until 2006 the old terminal building was used, and then the new terminal with air bridges opened up to the public. Local airlines based at Hato are Insel Air, Divi Divi Air, DAE (Dutch Antilles express) and Tiara Air. Dutch airlines which serve Hato are: KLM, Martinair and Arkefly. KLM is the only airline which has a daily schedule from Amsterdam to Curacao.
During my visit I noted several South American airlines operating classic old jets. Daily arrivals are Avianca (MD80), Aserca (DC-9-30s), Avior (B737-200 series) and Conviasa (B737-200/300s). As for the cargo scene I noticed Líneas Aéreas Suramericanas (LAS) Colombia (B727-100s) and Cargolux (747-400s) parked on the ramp. The U.S. military has three Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) in Latin America and the Caribbean; one of them is at Hato Airport. The FOLs are strategic, locations which allow U.S. and partner nation aircraft the use of existing airfields in support of the region's multinational counter-drug operations. During my visit I found several E-3A Sentry AWACS, KC-135R tanker, C17 Globemaster and a single Boeing VC-25A on the huge ramp
During my stay on the main Island of Curacao I decided to visit the neighbouring Island of Aruba, and check out the local atmosphere. In front of the airport terminal, on a busy round about, resides a derelict bare metal DC-3, which I was planning to visit. Going through the airport schedules for Aruba I found a small company called Tiara Air, which was flying between the Islands with two Short 360 turboprop aircrafts. I visited its small ticket office inside Hato old terminal and purchased a round trip fare to Aruba for 125 us dollars, for a midweek flight.
Tiara Air (IATA: 3P/ICAO TNM) is a small airline based at Aruba: Queen Beatrix International Airport. It currently (December 2008) operates flights between Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire and Punto Fijo (Venezuela). Tiara Air main hub is Aruba where the airline fleet of two Short 360s are based. The airline director Alejandro Muyale, named the airline after his daughter Tiara Muyale. The word 'tiara' is derived from Spanish word, meaning 'crown'. The Muyale family has owned an aircraft ground handling service company at Aruba Airport for almost 30 years. Alejandro headed the company and fulfilled his dream by applying for an airline operation certification (AOC) with the Aruban Department of Civil Aviation during April 2006. Noticing a nice market between the lower Antilles Islands and Venezuela he was granted his AOC to operate a small twin engine commuter aircraft. Most of Tiara Air passengers are locals who commute between the Dutch Antilles Islands. The Punto Fijo service was set up to fulfil a special market, where Arubans travel to Venezuela for superior medical service.
During April 2007 Tiara Air started flying with a single twin engine Short 360 turbo prop aircraft. The short 360 a/c was fitted out with 30 seats and carried out some 28 flights during the week. Tiara Air first Short 360 arrived from Canada and previously flew with Pacific Coastal Airlines (PCA) she was registered P4-TIA (c/n SH3619). It received Tiara colourful livery consisting of 'baby' blue and yellow striping and the big blue T on its tail. It's second Short 360 P4-TIB (c/n: SH3621), also came from Pacific Coastal Airlines, but retained the basic PCA livery and received Tiara Air logos on its fuselage.
With the companies slogan 'On Time – Convenient & Simpatico' Tiara Air began its 35 minute flight to Hato Curacao. On Friday the 20th July 2007 Tiara Air inaugurated its second destination to Bonaire's Flamingo Airport, with a non stop service 45 minute flight. During January 2008 Tiara Air added its 3rd destination to Las Piedras Airport, Punto Fijo (Venezuela). This route was previously served by Santa Bárbara Airlines, but due to the airlines temporary halt for this route, Tiara Air decided to take the advantage and begun to serve this high demand route. It turned out that medical services are cheaper and faster in Venezuela and lots of Arubans take up this offer. During June 2008 Tiara Air has reached an agreement with Air Cargo Carriers Inc. from Milwaukee WI, regarding maintenance, training programs and hiring of flight crews. Air Cargo Carriers, Inc. is the largest civilian operator of Shorts 360/330 & Skyvan aircraft in the world. It maintains one of the world's largest inventories of Shorts spares to support its fleet and worldwide operators. Since Tiara was using two Short 360 aircrafts it made sense to team up with Air Cargo Carriers Inc.
After a short and fruitful discussion with Aruba's DCA, (Department of Civil Aviation), Tiara Air was approved to work in partnership with Air Cargo Carriers in order to set up an alternative training program in which Tiara Air's own pilots will be fully trained to the F.A.A. standards as required by Air Cargo Carriers. Two Captains of Tiara Air, Sam Katchka & Captain Aldrin Wever, traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and undertook a 4 week classroom based training program. Then they traveled to La Guardia, New York to undergo intensive flight training in a Shorts 360 flight simulator. Currently Tiara has 4 Captains and 6 co-pilots. During November 2007 Tiara advertised for new cabin attendants in the local newspapers and out of the 50 females which had applied 5 have been awarded their flying Wings at a little ceremony during July 2008. A total of 6 cabin attendants serve the Tiara fleet of Short 360 fleet.
For the future Tiara is looking to add new destinations to Venezuela. There is talk about a high demand route to Valencia Venezuela. Additionally longer routes to Caracas, Panama and Miami are in the pipeline. But this would demand a new aircraft to the fleet….possibly a jet?
The morning of the 17th November began cloudy and not as I had hoped for, blues skies and sunshine. The hurricane season had come to an end but Curacao was plagued with the occasional tropical downpour. I left my hotel early and arrived at the new airport terminal on time for check-in at the Tiara counter. My flight (3P-102) was scheduled for 08.30 hours (LT) departure, which gave me some time to explore the open-air terminal and grab some coffee. Then it was time to enter the departure lounge which was at the second floor. The Island of Aruba is not part of the Dutch Islands so I had to pay a departure tax of 70 Dutch Antillean guilders. As I waited at the gate I saw the arrival of Tiara Air Short 360, registered P4-TIA, and taxied to a remote parking spot in front of the control tower. About 15 minutes before departure our group of passengers where asked to follow the ground agent and we walked across the ramp towards the a/c. I waited to board last and took some pictures. I entered the a/c and was greeted by the pretty cabin attended Indhira Stok. The crew uniforms consist of a blue skirt and pastel yellow shirt which matches the a/c colourful external paint scheme.
The Short 360 cabin lay-out is straightforward with a single row of seats on the LH side and a double row of seats on the RH side. I decided to sit on the Aft LH seat. In the cockpit Captain Sam Katchka and co-pilot Ralph Hook where busy going through the before engine start check lists. Within a couple of minutes both Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65R turboprop engines were running smoothly and we taxied to Hato single runway (11/29) and line up for take-off. Then Captain Katchka opened up the throttles and we were racing down the runway. With max T/O power at 3800 lbs/torque we soon rotated at 105 knots and climbed out at 106 knots. The noise inside the cabin was significant, but this is normal for a twin engine turboprop! After take-off we banked to the left and made a 180 degrees turn and flew parallel to the coast, on a runway heading towards Queen Beatrix AP. We past over Curacao mid island and levelled off at 5000 ft (FL 050) with a cruising speed 170 knots (indicated airspeed). Both engines were running at 3200 lbs of torque and prop rev at 1300 rpm.
Cabin attended Indhira Stok started serving the passengers breakfast ,which consisted of a small bread sandwich called 'pastijtje' and refrigerated tropical juice. The weather was improving and I noticed the deep blue ocean beneath us. 20 minutes later the Aruban shore approached and we flew over the Island on a down-wind track. Looking out I saw the Island capital Oranjestad and a large cruise ship port below us. We turned into our base leg and the gear and flaps came down. Turning on finals with flaps at 30 degrees we crossed over Horses Bay and Surfside Beach. Normal landing speed is 105 knots and the Short 360 touched down smoothly. We taxied to Tiara Air remote stand with next to us an Amerijet International Boeing 727-200s cargo which was being loaded.
During deplaning I had a short window of opportunity to chat with Captain Katchka. He mentioned that the Shorts 360 is a relatively simple airplane with regard to systems. Due to lack of many complex electronic/computerized systems (almost everything is analog and mechanical) the airplane is pretty reliable and we have little down time. Cross wind landings do acquire a little more aggressive crosswind technique due to the a/c square fuselage. Other than that it handles very well, it is very economical and is a lot of fun to fly. My time on the ramp was up and soon I joined my fellow passengers on the bus for the short ride to the arrivals hall. Thus ended my short 35 minute flight, onboard this unique twin engine turboprop a/c. I was looking forward to my return flight to Hato later that afternoon. Now was the time to explore the Island of Aruba.
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(ps: I would like to thank the crew: Captain Sam Katchka, co-pilot Ralph Hook, Indhira Stok, David kok, Marketing assistant Abigaél Arends for there time and help)
|SH3619 360-100 then 300 STATUS - Current|
|Regd 17 Jun 83 (CofR G-BKUH/R1) as G-BKUH to Short Brothers Ltd, but NTU and canx 14 Aug 83. Regd as G-14-3619 and FF 24 Aug 83. Deld 27 Aug 83 as N364MQ to Simmons Airlines, Marquette MI, operating for American Eagle. Bought and regd Aug 87 to First Security Bank of Utah (Still operated by Simmons Airlines until 8 Dec 91). Lsd 8 Dec 91 to 16 Sep 92 to Flagship Airlines, Nashville TN, operating for American Eagle - Lsd 4 Jan 94 to 23 Oct 94 to Flagship Airlines, Nashville TN, operating for American Eagle - Last service 23 Oct 94 Charlotte to Raleigh-Durham. (As of 23 Oct 94 TT = 20,730 Hr. L 28 515). Regd 31 Oct 94 to Shorts Air Lease Inc, Arlington VA - Canx Apr 95 and deld 10 May 95 and regd 2 Jun 95 as C-GPCG (as a Series 300) to Pacific Coastal Airlines Richmond BC. Canx 31 Jan 06 as sold in Aruba to Tiara Air as P4-TIA. Noted at Curacao 17 Apr 06 as such - Current 18 Sep 08.|
|SH3621 360-100 then 300 STATUS - Current|
|Regd 17 Aug 83 (CofR G-BKWK/R1) as G-BKWK to Short Brothers Ltd, but regd as G-14-3621 and FF 12 Sep 83. G-BKWK canx 23 Sep 83. Painted as N365MQ on 3 Nov 83, deld 12 Nov 83 and regd Nov 83 as N365MQ to Simmons Airlines, Marquette MI, operating for American Eagle - Sold and regd Aug 87 to First Security Bank of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, still operated by Simmons Airlines, operating for American Eagle. Tfd 7 Dec 93 to 30 Oct 94 to Flagship Airlines, Nashville TN, operating for American Eagle, entered service 10 Dec 93. Last service 30 Oct 94 Fayeteville to Raleigh-Durham. (as of 30 Oct 94 TT = 20,371 Hr. landings 27,663). WFU/stored 30 Oct 94 at Clarksville WV and regn canx Apr 95. Sold 6 Apr 95 and regd 25 May 95 as C-GPCN (as a Series 300) to Pacific Coastal Airlines, Richmond, BC, Fleet No|