Today's meetings began at 9am... well, almost.
Last week, I texted our programs' friend in the civil aviation department, asking for a meeting. He texted back and we settled on 9am at his office, for this morning. Knowing that a lot can happen over a weekend, I sent him a text at 8am to verify. Getting no response, I made my way to his office, wondering what I would find.
The civil aviation office has recently moved from the 2nd floor of the terminal building at the international airport to a building at the airport formerly used by Air Gabon- a now defunct airline. The renovated building is now in great shape. Every office is very clean, newly painted, new furniture (from Italy), and, of course, air conditioned. Arriving at the front door, I am now greeted by a security detail, whereas, in the previous offices, I could casually walk down the halls of their floor and into the office of my friend. Well, they've put an end to that. It's tight security throughout. Lucky for me, there were a couple of ladies, that knew me, approaching the front door at the same time myself. They vouched for me and I was in the front door to the second level of security- the receptionist behind the glass.
I told the receptionist that I had a 9am with my friend and then she said something I couldn't understand. She must have said something like "Oh yeah? You and everyone else" because, at that moment, I caught a glimpse of my friend further back in an adjacent room to the receptionist, making copies and surrounded by 3 or 4 others. As he looked up, I gave him a wave and his response was a "oh yeah, that's right, I'm supposed to meet with you today." So, needless to say, I had a bit of a wait.
After some opening chit-chat, we got down to business. Here's what we discussed:
> Hangar: We have a hangar for our airplane, but the problem is this... it's at the wrong airport. In fact, it's not even at an airport anymore. It's at what used to be the place where the Bongolo Hospital had previously thought would be the base for the aviation program. However, having no aviation activity for many years, the surrounding village moved in. Now, there are houses up and down the airstrip (now a road) with power lines crossing here and there. So, our question is this- If we can take down the hangar, can the airport give us a small piece of property to put it up at the international airport? Our friend bounced this to ADL- Aeroport De Libreville. He gave me the name of the contact I would need to take this up with and the location of his office. I would do this next.
> Fill-in Airplane: I discussed the two ideas we had for a backup airplanes. He told me to forget about the Pilatus Porter, sighting some complexities there. Frankly, that helped to clarify things for us. I had loved the idea of logging some time in the Porter, but getting familiarized with it and then getting the sign off, here in Gabon, was proving to be a complicated and expensive ordeal. So... I'm hoping that, by the end of this week, we can have a meeting with the owner of the Beechcraft Baron and firm up the details of the arrangement.
> AvGas Availability: Apparently, in east part of the country, at a sugar plantation, there is a small fleet of Pipers that do aerial spraying of pesticides and the such. I asked our friend if he had a contact for this operation and if he knew where they were getting their AvGas. He said he didn't know, but that he would look into it for me. Our goal is that, when our aircraft comes back from repairs, we have a better source for cheaper fuel.
> Airstrip Certification: Once a year, we have to fork over funds to re-open the runway at the Bongolo Hospital. This is an expensive endeavor. We have to pay for an inspector or two to travel to the airstrip, make the inspection, meals, and lodging. Then, the inspector makes his report and then documents the airport as open. You would think that's the end of it. Nope. Now you must pay a fee for that document to be processed. You get a copy and then they send the document down the pipeline so that everyone knows your airport is fair game for takeoffs and landings. So, my question for our friend was to see if anyone would be offended if we asked for a "discount" for some of the fees involved. Answer? He passed on this one. He suggested that I talk to a colleague of his.
There was some other stuff, but, you get the gist (is "gist" a word?).
After the meeting, my friend walked me out to the parking lot. He's never done that before. Perhaps a new security procedure? Hmmm. Well, he did meet a friend in the parking lot, so there's that.
Since I was at the airport already and feeling lucky, I took a walk over to the terminal building and was fortunate enough to find the right people to talk about finding room to erect our hangar. They said that the problem is one of land- there may not be anywhere to put a hangar. However, he gave me an idea to make my proposal more palatable to "ADL" (Aeroport De Libreville). He suggests that we say that our hangar will be available for others to use as well, that ADL may work hard to find us space. So, we're gonna give this "community hangar" thing some thought. Truth is- it's really too small for most aircraft to use, so, even if others wanted to use it, their aircraft wouldn't fit. Hmmm...
After this meeting, my time at the airport was done. I had a real desire to grab a cafe-au-lait at the Aero Club, but... I should probably find a place where I can get one for less than 3 bucks. So, that's a slice of a couple of meetings in the life of a central african bush pilot.