Drake Bay airport in Costa RIca's southern zone.
Drake Bay airport in Costa RIca’s southern zone. Foto: Nature Air

COSTA RICA NEWS – Who is watching that the 90 private airfields in the country, used for crop dusting planes, ferrying tourists to vacation spots, recreation and, occasionally, welcome emergency landing, to make sure they are not being used for illegal activities as well?

According to Aviación Civil (Civil Aviation) no one – not a simple cop or security agent.

Upala landing strip. Photo: Nature Air
Upala landing strip. Photopaises.com

These fields range from a fairly level gravel strip hacked out of the foliage to smooth asphalt or concrete strip, usually without nearby buildings. They invite everything from gun running to narcotics trafficking.

Related: Six Arrested, Plane with 400 Kgs of Coke and More Than US$1 Million Seized

Nor at the moment of their construction do police investigate their owners. Inspection of the site is limited to assuring that the surface is safe and that no obstacles are in the flight path such as trees or hills. Also, they are required to have indicators of wind direction, such as a large cloth “sock” on a pole.

In a leap of faith, Civil Aviation officials require them to keep a log of incoming and outgoing flights — but they don’t ever inspect those doubtful records of movement. Marietta Cordero has owned a strip for 25 years at Bandera Beach, Parrita, but told La Nacion that never once was she asked for the flight log.

Application for a permit to build an airstrip is relaxed — one merely has to file for one, according to Roy Solis of Civil Aviation. Solis says it is a right. The law says only that a private strip cannot exceed 1,000 meters, but this no hardship for small private planes that can land and take off from a fraction of that space.

Quepos, Costa Rica. Photo: Brusselsavationaschools.com

Legislation also specifies that, although private property, the runways have to be open for periodical inspection — which nearly never happens. But when that happens, it often turns up a surprise, such as the discovery on Aug. 21 of a plane carrying nearly 1,000 lbs. (400 kilos) of cocaine at Cañas.

Then there was the case in December when drug police confiscated a metric ton of the drug at La Pandora airstrip in Valle de la Estrella in Limon province. Oldemar Madrigal of the Areal Surveillance section says to watch them all 24 hours per day would take 500 policemen — “and we don”t have them.”

Background: We remember during the civil strife in Nicaragua when The Tico Times and The New York Times discovered similtaneously a clandestine CIA airstrip in northern Costa Rica. It was for use in supplying contra rebels. Tico Times published the story on a Friday and the other Times on Saturday.

Civil Aviation knew nothing about the crude strip, which is not surprising. When the papers published the exposes, the U.S. Embassy was not gratified by the whistle blowing, needless to say.

Isla Las Damas, Costa RIca | Photo:  Brusselsavationaschools.com
Isla Las Damas, Costa RIca | Photo: Brusselsavationaschools.com

Article by iNews.co.cr, reposted by with permission

Stay up to date with the latest stories by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Facebook.