It was good to check out of the Caesar Business hotel for the second, and hopefully, last time. Our luck did indeed turn the corner. All the squawks were cleared. The tail number had been transformed (see photos) and was ready to be inspected for airworthiness. The gentlemen from ANAC arrived on time and completed their inspection by noon. There was a delay in getting the over-flight permit from Rio but we had it by 2:30 PM. The Embraer team provisioned the plane with some sodas and snacks. The baggage was loaded. The only remaining step was to purchase fuel.
Jet fuel prices are volatile — down 6% from a year ago but up 10% from a month ago. The prices are also somewhat unpredictable so it is a good idea to use a fuel program such as Colt International to get pre-negotiated prices. Colt can get the price and provide you with a fuel authorization so that when you arrive somewhere the price is already set and the purchase is placed on your Colt card. Colt is international but the airport in Sao Jose dos Campos does not recognize them. In fact they don’t accept any credit cards — cash only. The in thing currently is to say the U.S. dollar is weak but if you are outside of the U.S. people seem to like the dollar very much — in fact insist on it. With a plane ready to head to the U.S. and only one fuel provider at the airport you can really appreciate competition and know what happens with the lack thereof.
We took off around 4 PM and headed for 41,000 feet and straight to Brazilia, the capital city of Brazil. By the time we got to the FBO, the Petrobras fuel truck was waiting for us. Captain Bill and Captain Rafael Silva, who speaks Portugese, got into a discussion with the fuel truck driver and colleagues but then with a supervisor. We had been told by Colt that we had a fuel authorization but the gentlemen from Petrobras said they never heard of Colt and that their price was north of $6 per gallon and they only accepted cash — U.S. dollars. Captain Bill pointed to a Shell fuel truck across the runway and the supervisor knew what he meant. The Petrobras truck pulled out and the Shell truck pulled up to take their place. The price was more than $1 per gallon lower. This is another reason to have a delivery consultant like JetQuik along — they have seen this movie before.
The flight from Brazilia would be the longest leg of the trip — more than three hours. It started out smoothly but we then entered unexpected and heavy icing. Very heavy even by account of the two heavily experienced captains up front. It was exciting to watch the deicing boots expand and contract and comforting to know well the Embraer engineered deicing equipment worked. I certainly did not expect to see the boots in action on the first day of flight. Belem is a large city on the banks of the Amazon estuary. The city was founded in 1616 and was the first European colony on the Amazon. The giant river is a tiny bit shorter than the Nile but is definitely the largest river in the world by all other measures. At some points in the season it has a width of more than 120 miles. It is not the size that has resulted in there being no bridges over the river — engineers could certainly design one. The issue is that the rainforest is so intense that there are no roads and cities that a bridge would connect.
Belem undoubtedly has many treasures worth visiting but for transient pilots the city was not a joy — far from it. The good news was that the FBO had received the Colt fuel authorization so although we did not know the price we were paying we knew it was pre-negotiated by Colt and would be billed to the Colt card. The four of us loaded our bags into a small taxi and made our way over the most pot-holed road I have ever encountered. The drive was a half-hour or so with many red lights. At each one the driver stepped on it! Turns out that stopping at a light is an invitation to thugs to attack. The Hilton was claimed to be the best hotel in the city but the stench upon entering the lobby was a big turn-off and the beds reminded me of my days at Fort Bragg in the U.S. Army forty years ago. It was 11 PM and although we had had no dinner, for some reason no one had much of an appetite.
Tomorrow would begin the island hopping through the Caribbean. Stay tuned.