Just where is Tucumán anyway?

Lufthansa Cargo offers flexibility to its customers by flying to various destinations at different times of the year. Sometimes our pilots have never flown to these destinations either. Senior First Officer Tim Holderer reports on his maiden flight to the foot of the Andes

The first flight to a new airport is a special experience for any pilot. Even more so when it’s not one of the well-known major international airports but you have to go looking in an atlas to find it instead. So, I was pleased when the three-letter code TUC appeared on my October roster. A quick search online showed me that this was “Tucumán” in Argentina and a glance at the map finally gave me its precise position – right over in the west, at the foot of the Andes. The planned flight time of almost three hours also made sense as the flight would be taking off from our Campinas hub in Brazil. After our arrival there from Dakar the previous day, we also found out what special cargo would await us: blueberries.

The cargo wasn’t the only thing. The route itself was also something special. It emerged during flight preparation that we would not only find a breathtaking backdrop at our destination but could also expect an amazing sight on the way there – the Iguazu Falls. And so it was that we flew over the tri-border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina almost an hour after taking off from Campinas.

Each flight is thoroughly prepared. Preparations are even more comprehensive when this is a pilot’s first time flying that route. We study maps of the route and destination airport (we are particularly interested in the terrain in this instance, including obstructions, the airport infrastructure and navigation aids), weather phenomena and special operational requirements. Information from the Operations Support Team in Flight Operations, the stations and colleagues who have already been there help us in this.

In addition to numerous pallets of blueberries, around 50 tonnes in total, our “Argentina boss” Marcos Koenig and his team were also on hand to meet us at TUC. He told us that we were already the second crew to come to Tucumán. There is a historical reason for this. Independence was declared in 1816 in the capital of Argentina’s smallest province, also known as “The Garden of the Republic”. Fruit exports have the greatest economic significance, making TUC Argentina’s second largest cargo airport. Therefore, the team developed a direct link to Frankfurt together with one of our main customers. Previously, other airlines had always transported the blueberries to Europe via Miami from October to December. Therefore, the flights via Viracopos and Dakar in autumn 2013 represented an important milestone. The customers and local authorities were impressed with the punctuality and quality on offer from Lufthansa Cargo. This also makes TUC only the second airport in Argentina that Lufthansa Cargo has served since 1995, following Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE). Marcos Koenig explained that the project was well received internally as well. He described the flight as a real masterpiece of coordination. This was needed to successfully establish logistics at TUC with Sales, Handling and Operations in such a short space of time.

The rest of the crew and I were able to see all of this for ourselves during our two-hour layover, which ended with us taking off on time for the return flight to Campinas. One little oddity was that we had to enter and then leave the country again at the same time. Just an official technicality – but not wholly unusual and dealt with efficiently thanks to the friendly immigration officer. We didn’t have to walk far either as our MD-11F was the only large aircraft we could see on the apron, apart from a small passenger plane which landed shortly after our arrival.

The flight back took us over the Argentine Pampas and Iguazu Falls again to Viracopos airport. Our colleagues were already waiting for the aircraft so that the blueberries could be on supermarket shelves within just two more days.
TUC isn’t the only seasonal destination. Chilean fruits, especially cherries from Santiago de Chile (SCL) – a record-breaking ten additional flights – and mangoes from Petrolina, a city in the northeast of Brazil known for its agriculture, were again on the schedule. In any case, the trip to Tucumán was worth it, for our customers, for our business and also for the pilots, as we were able to post another aeronautical highlight in our log books.