If you have read my articles in the past, then you know I love out-of-the-way airports, airlines, and aircraft and…
Trip Report: Crossing Brazil’s Midwest with ASTA’s Grand Caravan
On the same day AirlineGeeks visited ASTA Linhas Aéreas’ headquarters and hangar in Cuiabá, Brazil, the company started a new route — a very welcomed coincidence. The new flight would connect the airline’s base to Nova Mutum, a short 126-mile route.
Nova Mutum is a city in central Mato Grosso with a population of just over 45,000. The city counts with huge plantations of soybeans, corn and cotton, as well as creations of cattle and chicken. Its robust economy make it a viable destination for ASTA.
We already had discovered how ASTA works and excels in its niche market. Now it was time to join it on this special operation to know how it is to fly its Cessna Grand Caravan in these “subregional” routes.
I was especially excited to try the Cessna Caravan, a turboprop that is the workhorse for many small operators around the world. With thousands of units produced over the years, this aircraft is almost a tractor with wings, absolutely robust and blatantly versatile.
SUL634 CGB-SDNM: Flying the Caravan Across Mato Grosso
Since I was at ASTA’s offices writing about the airline, I couldn’t go to the airport terminal to make my check-in. Instead, the airline printed the boarding pass for me remotely — I sent them my ID number through a WhatsApp message.
Nevertheless, ASTA has its own check-in counter in the terminal, between Azul’s and GOL’s, to which I paid a visit before returning home.
Despite staying at the airline’s hangar instead of heading to the terminal, I did not worry. ASTA’s flights in Cuiabá leave from the hangar, due to aircraft size limitations at the airport’s ramp. Moreover, parking taxes would be much higher at the regular apron.
As usual, the other passengers boarded at the terminal gate and then were taken by van to the hangar, where we all boarded the Cessna Caravan.
There, I was handed my boarding pass.
This flight would be operated by Cessna C208B Grand Caravan PP-OSL, which, according to Aeromuseu, was delivered to ASTA brand new in July 2011. An ASTA-branded rug was placed under the steep climb to the cabin.
The cabin was pretty comfortable for an aircraft of that size, with nine seats configured in a 1-2 setting. Keep in mind the Caravan could transport three more passengers if the Brazilian authorities allowed so, hence the space between seats is pretty good.
Also, given the size of the aircraft, there is no bathroom on board, as expected. If needed, passengers can go to the toilet at the airports; at ASTA’s hangar, in the case of Cuiabá, or the local terminals, in the case of other cities.
There is no division between the passenger cabin and the cockpit, so the front row has a privileged sight for the entire work by the crew.
Over each seat, there was a branded package with snacks. A very nice touch, especially considering this is what major airlines offer as a courtesy these days.
This flight would count with seven passengers only; me, Fabiano Oliveira, ASTA’s commercial director, and five authorities from Nova Mutum. So as soon as the van arrived to the hangar, boarding was finished in no time.
Under the merciless summer sun of Cuiabá, the cabin was as hot as an oven, since ASTA still does not uses energy feeding to keep the air conditioning working when the engine is off. The airline plans to buy a feeder in the near future, thankfully.
Still, it was just a matter of hearing the safety instructions by Captain Thiago Torrente — ASTA’s chief pilot — until doors were closed.
At 3:34 p.m., four minutes after the scheduled time of departure, the single Pratt & Whitney PT-6 engine came to life, bringing the well-needed fresh air to the cabin. I honestly expected it to be louder; it was not, and the noise level was acceptable for a small turboprop like this.
The Caravan is not pressurized, so it usually flies at around 15,000 feet. As we gained altitude, I took a look at the snacks package, which was well filled with both sweet and savory options. This was really well done.
Cold beverage options were available at a drink cooler in the back of the cabin.
In the seat pocket, besides the safety card, there was also a local newspaper from the current day.
The safety card was a little bit different from what we are used to in major airlines.
But the real fun could be seen from the Cessna’s big windows. Since the cruise altitude on the Caravan is low, Brazil’s immensity can be better seen.
Despite some slight turbulences, which are pretty common during the rainy summer in the Brazilian Midwest, the flight was super smooth. The Caravan really impressed me; actually, I could even take a fast nap, since I hadn’t slept too much that day.
When I woke up, we were already descending to Nova Mutum. Before landing, we made some sightseeing over the town. Outside the buildings, it could be seen the local economy relies heavily on plantations, with cultivated area as far as the eye could see.
At 4:44 p.m., regular air transport arrived for the first time in Nova Mutum’s history.
As usual for an operation like this, the local firefighters received the aircraft with a water salute.
After the quick deboarding, a celebration took place on the ramp. Seemingly, this really was a remarkable event to Nova Mutum’s citizens and authorities.
The terminal was small for larger aircraft, but absolutely perfect for a nine-seater like ASTA’s Grand Caravan. Actually, the structure was so good compared to other cities the airline serves that Fabiano Oliveira, the airline director on the flight, labeled the runway a “red carpet for us.”
After some interviews and celebrations, it was time to head back to Cuiabá. A huge rainstorm was approaching Nova Mutum, so it was time to rush.
SUL635 SDNM-CGB: Back to Cuiabá
The return flight had just me and Oliveira as passengers, so I could take the best seat in the house at the front row. It was really interesting to see the pilots operating the Caravan, something we cannot do on major airlines.
It was just in time, because as soon as we left the runway, we saw the rain drops. Also, a huge shower could be seen just by our side, which produced a beautiful rainbow.
An uneventful flight succeeded, with the pilots making some slight corrections to avoid the rain clouds.
I took my time to enjoy the views from the window drinking a Coca-Cola from the cooler. As we approached Cuiabá, the night arrived.
The operating runway in Cuiabá, 17, was almost at the same heading we bowed after taking-off from Nova Mutum. Our approach pattern was long but very straightforward, and at 6:25 p.m., PP-OSL touched down back in Mato Grosso’s capital.
Deboarding happened obviously in no time and I stayed at ASTA’s office, without the need of taking the van back to the terminal.
Overall, flying the Caravan was a really interesting experience. Despite being very small, the aircraft is more comfortable and quieter than I expected, perfectly serving its mission. Of course you can’t expect a Caravan to have the same comfort levels of a 737, but it was really beyond my expectations.
ASTA’s service also impressed me. The snacks package was generous — more than you would expect on some big airlines around the world — and having ice cold drinks was also a very nice touch. The airline also specifically subscribes to the local newspaper to offer it to passengers.
Summing up, ASTA does what it can to offer not only the convenience and agility of a flight, but also to offer a comfortable experience, even under the restrictions imposed by a small turboprop like the Caravan. I was impressed and truly believe that if it grows with the feet on the ground, the airline has all conditions to keep succeeding in the “subregional” market.
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