LATIN AMERICA NEWS – A new investigation has highlighted the growing theft of private airplanes by drug traffickers in Argentina, with authorities in the country apparently showing little signs of attempting to address the problem.
Within the last 18 months, the Argentine Federation of Air Clubs (FADA) said groups linked to drug and contraband trafficking have stolen eight planes from the country’s 400 private air clubs, reported La Nacion.
Oscar Repetto, the president of FADA, said, “The air is the most secure way for trafficking drugs, “ noting that planes — such as a Cessna 182 — are able to transport 400 to 500 kilos of drugs into neighboring countries if the seats are removed.
Fearful of having planes stolen, Repetto said that “air clubs have adopted the habit of leaving planes without batteries or gas.” According to La Nacion, in just the past three months two attempts were made to rob planes in the town of Casilda, located about 60 kilometers from the eastern city of Rosario.
Argentina’s National Administration of Civil Aviation (ANAC) said that no registry of stolen planes exists, and that ANAC has no responsibility for providing security to private air clubs. According to La Nacion, sources within ANAC said in many cases it appears pilots with detailed knowledge of local hangers are used to help steal planes.
The theft of private airplanes in Argentina is an indication of the continuing appeal for drug traffickers in the region of moving their product via air using light aircraft.
Using planes to move drugs has been prevalent in Colombia and Bolivia, and especially in Peru, where it has been estimated some 90 percent of cocaine produced in the VRAEM is exported to neighboring countries by air.
Some countries have taken steps to combat the issue, with Peru announcing last year its intent to purchase new military planes and a new radar system. Honduras has also approved a law authorizing suspected drug planes to be shot down. Meanwhile Colombia has reported a 99 percent drop in drug flights after the erstablishment of a no-fly zone — a measure Peru is reportedly seeking to emulate.
Enforcement and regulation in Argentina, however, appear to be lax, with the La Nacion investigation detailing the ability of a pilot convicted of drug offenses to continue to actively facilitate air trafficking.
Indeed, Argentine authorities seem to be doing little to stop the problem, despite some 1,400 unauthorized runways being recently identified in the country.