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The tail of PR-OAF arrives to Pan Am Experience Brazil’s address in Brasília. (Photo: Pan Am Experience Brazil)

Interview: Written-Off Fokker 100 to Become Pan Am-Themed Restaurant

On March 28, 2014, a Fokker 100 operated by Avianca Brasil executed an emergency landing in Brasilia, Brazil, after a hydraulic failure kept the nose landing gear from dropping. Following appropriate procedures by the crew, PR-OAF managed to land with its nose on the runway. All 44 passengers and five crew members left the aircraft unharmed, with some passengers even succeeding in not missing their connections.

The fate of the aircraft, however, was not as good. Manufactured in 1992, PR-OAF was written off Avianca Brasil’s fleet, remaining in Brasilia before being scrapped to provide parts to remaining Fokkers in the fleet.

At some point in time before its demise in 2019, Avianca Brasil sold the fuselage carcass to an unknown third party, and the Fokker was kept in a Brasilia hangar, where the aircraft was forgotten for a long time. It was not until June 18 when AeroJota, an aviation classifieds website, published an advertisement on its website saying the fuselage was on sale.

Alô amigos seguidores do site de Classificados AeroJota, temos para venda a fuselagem desse Fokker 100 para vc deixar em…

Posted by AeroJota on Thursday, June 18, 2020

The customer who bought the aircraft after the advertisement emerged, it was later discovered, was a group called PanAm Experience Brazil, also located in Brasilia. Last week, a convoy of trucks took the fuselage of PR-OAF to the parking lot of the city’s Central Baptist Church, where the project is headquartered.

Just like its American counterpart, Pan Am Experience Brazil aims to bring guests back to a golden era of aviation, an era that is immediately connected to the world-famous Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am.

And much to the surprise of enthusiasts and aviation geeks alike, the aircraft will now be the headquarters of this project, which is expected to even have the Fokker painted in full Pan Am colors. Behind the venture in Brazil is Ricardo Espindola, whose passion for aviation has been a lifelong one. AirlineGeeks had the chance to discuss the project with Espindola.

Pan Am Experience Brazil

The Brazilian entrepreneur, who is a pastor at the Baptist church and also a chef, has his own cooking TV show in a local station. He says that the project was born after a church fair, where he mixed his two passions: cooking and aviation. “A group reunited to mount a stand and it decided to mount an airplane mockup. Project done. After the party, no one wanted to dismount it, and it [was] decided to expand it.”

Since then, the project has grown, and the mockup started to take shape in a real building. Pan Am Experience Brazil has quickly become a real gastronomic experience that merges itself with the aircraft as if it was a real flight. “Boarding passes, check-in, media system, equipment that made the ‘aircraft’ vibrate,” Espindola said, listing features of the mockup.

The tribute to Pan Am, says Ricardo, comes because the “Brazilian classics” all have naming owners, making the licensing a “complex process.”

“Pan Am is the precursor of every model used in aviation today,” he mentions, adding that a piece of sentimentality comes along with it since one of his aunts was a flight attendant for the airline, “which brings [me] a lot of memories.” He says today the Pan Am brand is theirs in Brazil, including legal registration in the National Registry of Legal Entities.

In one year of the first mockup, says the chef, the project has attended 1000 “passengers”, in a space that had 20 seats. Besides paying customers, this included students from low-income public schools, groups of elderly and members of the Brazilian Association of Assistance to Families of Children with Cancer and Hemopathies. And profits are put back in to allow for those other groups to visit, says the project’s captain.

With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Brazil and before the arrival of the Fokker, in July the first mockup was removed. But when asked why the project chose a Fokker if Pan Am never operated this aircraft model, Espindola said it was a “casual” choice.

“It was not a goal nor an objective,” he added. “Casually we saw an article in a social network that talked about the equipment [PR-OAF]. So we went after [it] and it was available,” he says. “What we thought sometimes [to have] would be a [Boeing] 737-200 but in opportunity, the Fokker came in handy”, the now-businessman adds. “The fact it was being scrapped in Brasilia facilitated it all.”

With the aircraft in new hands, the project finishes its plans of what to do next, since the Fokker was empty on the inside. On the inside, part of the structure of the first mockup will be used in the old Alpha Fox, and the cabin is expected to count with two “classes.” Similarly, the outside of the aircraft will be completely repainted in the last colors of Pan Am. And because several parts of the outer fuselage were missing, Pan Am Experience will use wither fiber or metal cuts to complete the missing ones.

Espindola expects the aircraft to be ready for “service” — so to speak — in 2021.

[To] make everything work, [to] serve the community regarding the social service,” are just a couple of goals he has set. “In the ‘long term’ lies expanding the service model. But what if Pan Am someday returns to service under our wings?”

Despite the very difficult times Brazil is facing, he remains hopeful.

“Although we are not operating, the crisis has not affected us, since we have no costs,” he said. “Getting the plane in the middle of the crisis shows that, despite it, with faith and vision dreams are possible to be accomplished.” He emphasized that “planning before execution is fundamental. And one step at a time.”

João Machado
João Machado
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