More than 30 potentially hazardous “pre-historic planes” used to fly daily over Peru’s Nazca lines

Though tourism has soared in Nazca, operators who fly visitors over the enigmatic Nazca Lines etched into the desert sands are not buying new aircraft to replace aging, frail-looking planes, in spite of a spate of deadly accidents and hair-raising emergency landings.

According to daily El Comercio, 90 percent of the 38 aircraft operating from Nazca’s Maria Reiche Airport are more than 35 years old.

Only Nasca Conexión Co.’s three Cessna Caravan, unpressurized single turboprop light utility and passenger aircraft planes, were manufactured in 1998 or later.

Nasca Conexión also operates three planes manufactured in the 1960s and two in 1976. Taxi Aéreo Ejecutivo has two aircraft dating back to 1963 and 1972, Carlos Palacín Fernández EIRL, now registered as Travel Air, operates six aircraft manufactured between 1961 and 1980. Aero Paracas flies five planes pieced together in 1960 and 1963.

All planes still have original panels, cabins, seats, doors, fuselage and wings.

Operators are responsible for updating their fleets, a María Reiche airport employee told El Comercio, but it’s up to the Ministry of Transportation and the General Direction of Civil Aviation to promote and demand the progressive replacement of the outdated and possibly hazardous aircraft.

Failing to replace “pre-historic” planes also impedes airport authorities from updating aeronautic monitoring technology, as most aircraft are only adapted to radio rather than satellite communication and surveillance.

Old planes are typically small, and most can only seat three to six passengers at a time. This has saturated the Nazca airspace, and impeded operators from increasing the number of passengers that fly over Nazca on a daily basis. Crowded air spaces increase the risk of mid-air collisions.

“Updating the light aircraft would increase tourism,” said pilot Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre. “And planes with greater (seating) capacity would allow more people to overfly (the lines)” more safely.

In August, a three-passenger lightweight aircraft registered to the Wings of American Corporation was unexpectedly struck by mechanical problems and forced to make an emergency landing on a level surfaced field alongside Peru’s Pan-American Highway. The three Brazilian tourists on board and the pilot were unharmed.

A few months prior, in April, a plane crash claimed the lives of five French tourists returning from a flyover of the Nazca lines.

The accident occurred approximately 10 minutes after takeoff, when the aircraft aborted its flyover of the Nazca Lines and attempted to return to the airport, reporting a mechanical failure.

The Aero Ica Cessna 206 struck an illegally constructed two-story building and got tangled in some high tension wires leading to the structure, adjacent to kilometer 456 of the Southern Pan-American Highway. It was the fourth aviation “incident” in as many months involving tourism flights over the Nazca lines.

On March 27, another tourist plane owned by Aero-Palcazú, also carrying five French tourists, made an emergency landing on the Pan-American Highway when it ran out of fuel. On Dec. 4 and Dec. 2, two Aerocóndor planes — one carrying four French tourists and the other carrying a dozen Japanese and American tourists — each executed emergency landings on the same busy highway. There were no casualties in any of those cases.

Since their discovery by American scientist Paul Kosok in 1939, the Nazca lines on Peru’s rocky Pampa San José, , located approximately 400 kilometers south of the Peruvian capital of Lima, have mystified scholars and astounded tourists.

Originally considered to be the vestiges of irrigation lines beyond the lush Nazca valley, the hundreds of figures — ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized marine animal figures and birds including a hummingbird, pelican and condor — are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru.

However, as only the lizard, hands and the tree figures can be seen from the a viewing platform located adjacent to the Pan-American Highway, hundreds of planes fly over the lines from dawn to dusk every day.

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