It was the airplane.
Several airlines have had routes between Cuenca and GYE but ultimately bailed on them because they weren't profitable. After all, it's only a 3.5 hour drive between the two cities and van services provide shuttles that depart hourly for only $12.
But, TAME airlines has a special European (headquartered in France) aircraft that's more aligned with the needs of this type of route. It has a 50 passenger ATR 42-500 (is that like a Chevy Impala?) aircraft designed for short runways and/or high and hot runways. There's no need for an Airbus 300 that seats 150 people on this route.
I've been a bit of a flying aficionado since 1969. This may seem weird, but in my hometown of Port Angeles, Washington on February 5th, 1969 a horrible crash occurred on the runway of our airport. All 10 people died when the plane took off and, apparently, stalled and crashed near the runway. This, in front of the pilots' (William R Fairchild) entire family who lived on the airport premises...as they readied to go to school. My sister (Senior Ball Princess) was dating his son (the Senior Ball King). Not long after, I met Mr Fairchild's daughter and dated her. Through this connection, I became fascinated and enamored with flying.
Fast forward to 1977, I was living in San Diego. I took flying lessons and got my private pilots license. I loved flying!! But, on September 25th, 1978 I was again connected to tragedy. I was still taking lessons. My instructor and I lifted off from Montgomery Field and headed South. In a few minutes a huge plume of smoke rose up in front of us. Chatter hit the airwaves. We were instructed to avoid that area. We decided to return to Montgomery Field. When we landed, gossip was still running amok. An airliner crashed. It was a DC10. It was American Airlines. When the facts came out, Pacific SouthWest Airlines (PSA) was on final approach to San Diego's Lindbergh Field. A student pilot had taken off from Lindbergh Field and was climbing as the PSA flight was descending. Through a series of errors, unfortunately, the two impacted mid-air and both plummeted to the ground smack dab in the middle of the city of San Diego. More than 150 people were killed and more than 20 houses destroyed.
Why do I bring this up? Because I was a student pilot and I was flying near that area at the same moment. This was before the days of internet and cell phones. It didn't dawn on me that my family back in Washington State would be concerned...that they would put 2 and 2 together. It wasn't until the next day that my Mom finally got ahold of me to make sure I was alright. It wasn't THIS student pilot.
Later, I worked at the San Diego airport, on the tarmac guiding planes in/out of the gate, loading/unloading baggage, cleaning the airplane interiors, emptying the potties (ugh) , etc. I hated the National Airlines ("Fly Me I'm Yours!!") flights that came in from Houston as they showed movies and served popcorn. Ever try to sweep up popcorn from underneath all the seats of a DC-10???
Around 1980, I and two others created 'SAGA', Skiers and General Athletics club which grew to 250 in membership before I departed. One of the ski trips we took was to Salt Lake City. It was on a tail-dragger DC-3!!!! OMG....talk about right out of the movies!!!! We took off in a rain storm from San Diego....it was like Casa Blanca. And, turbulence? WOOHOO!!!
In 1984 I moved to La La Land (Los Angeles). The bank I worked for was based in Stockton, Calif therefore that's where my clients were. I had to commute, albeit not daily, to meet with my clients. The bank owned 2 aircraft....a 30 passenger turbo-prop and a Lear jet outfitted with ostrich-skin seats and gold-plated ashtrays. Either way, I was in heaven flying in either aircraft. In the larger aircraft, the pilots would let me sit in the cockpit jumpseat as we approached and landed at the Van Nuys airport. WOW....wouldn't happen NOW!!!!
So, odd as it may seem, I've had a fascination with aircraft. I used to be able to identify aircraft strictly by the sounds of the engines, or more easily, by sight. I could spot a DC10 or MD-80 or 727, or 707 easily and, sometimes, even name the airline with my eyes closed. Airlines like Western, National, Hughes Airwest, Continental, PSA....I'm dating myself. Back then, it was like spotting a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500, 1950 Plymouth Deluxe or 1958 Chevy Station Wagon. Now, like cars, they all kinda look alike. However, my best friend of 37 years, Ron Merle, can call out the make/model of dang near every aircraft spotted in the sky.
Ever since 911, my interest has diminished as flying has become a royal pain in the ass. I don't enjoy it much anymore. Flights aren't as exciting as they used to be. I used to love the turbulence and being tossed about in the sky. Now, they find a new altitude in a few minutes and the 'ride' goes back to being dull.
Now....I bring this topic full circle. Remember TAME? Well, when I spotted this aircraft on the Cuenca tarmac, I knew I wanted to take it for a ride. It was somewhat smallish, you boarded via a door/steps that unfolded to the ground, it had big propellers that look like they would slice and dice the airplane should they ever come off, and I knew the plane had to fly at lower altitudes (thus more turbulence = more fun) since the route was short.
Sooooooo....I booked a flight to GYE just so I could fly on this aircraft and add it to my list of experiences. The roundtrip was about $80 and the flight lasted about 35 minutes. ONE flight attendant. We were served juice boxes on one leg and yogurt on another. Seating was 2 and 2....2 on one side, aisle, then 2 on the other side.
I booked a cheap hotel to stay the night near the airport, and spent a good part of the day at one of the malls shopping for the ever-elusive clothes that would fit this gringo who's bigger/taller than the average Ecuadorian. I was amazed at some of the prices at the mall. $125 for a 'designer' label shirt and $50 for flip-flops. GET OUTA HERE!!! I mean, the average monthly income of an Ecuadorian is maybe $400!!! How do these stores make it even if there ARE some rich people in/around GYE? Of the few things that ARE nice about Guayaquil, it's the very nice malls, the Malecon (waterside boardwalk) and a few parks. Thus, only 2 days spent there. It was all about the flight.
The flight was amazingly quiet given the fact these huge 6-blade engines were right outside our window mounted on overhead wings. The airplane is only 74 ft long, but the wingspan is 80 ft!! Compared to an Airbus 300 which is about 160 feet long and a wingspan of 135 feet. The cargo-hold is between the passengers and the cockpit. You have to go THROUGH the cargo-hold area to reach the cockpit!
Ok. So, why don't you join me and experience this flight via photos.
Welcome Aboard Mr Jessee.
Thank you for flying TAME.
|Boarding from the tarmac in Cuenca|
|Notice the cargo door IN-BETWEEN the cockpit and the passenger compartment.|
|12 rows of two-and-two plus 2 back-facing seats = 50 passenger capacity.|
|I love the vortexes that spin off the end of the wings.|
|The safety brochure.|
|A ghost plane!!! Actually, our own shadow being reflected on the clouds.|
|Koi pond in front of the entrance to the GYE terminal.|
|Strolling along the GYE Malecon (mall-eh-cone)|
|One of the government buildings in GYE.|
|Love these trees that have long 'tentacles' draping down from the tops.|
|A massive project GYE undertook and completed in 2000. A long boardwalk along the city's water edge.|
|In the GYE airport ready to head back to CUE. Notice the zig-zagging path the passengers must walk to stay clear of dangers.|
|Mid-flight, one engine stopped. I took this snapshot out my window. Amazingly enough, you barely noticed the difference of having only 1 engine running versus 2.|
|All the passengers were glued to their windows watching as the pilot tried to re-start the right engine.|
GOTCHA!!!! I just adjusted my camera to take photos at a high speed which captured the propellor blades as if they were stopped. BWWWAAAHHAAAAHHAAA!!!!
|Inbound to Cuenca, looking down at the new activity center (blue/yellow tent).|
|And looking down over the Mall Del Rio of Cuenca.|
|Back on the Tarmac Again (sounds like a country song)|
Copy that. Rogerwillco. Over and out. KKKKKCCCCCHHHHH!!!!
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