According to authorities in Colombia, an average of 14 airplanes a year are reported stolen in the country and used to smuggle drugs into Central America, evidence of the high volume of aerial drug trafficking in the country and the corruption among civil aviation authorities that enables it.
As Caracol reports, sources in the Attorney General's office and aviation authorities say the average is down from a high of 21 airplanes stolen annually before 2008. The planes are frequently sold by corrupt airport employees to drug trafficking organizations, who use them to smuggle their product into Central America.
Guatemala's interior minister, Hector Mauricio Lopez, told Caracol authorities in the country detects the entrance of 90 "narco-planes" a year, 80 percent of which come from Colombia. Pilots land the planes along the Guatemala-Mexico border, Lopez says, and offload their cargo before destroying the planes and returning to Colombia.
In the latest incident of plane theft, a Beech Super King airplane operated by Aerocapital, bound from Bogota to Roatan, Honduras, disappeared from radar over Uraba, a region of Colombia's Antioquia department. A dispatcher for Aerocapital was fired for his alleged involvement in the theft.
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Caracol's report reveals the modus operandi of one type of airborne cocaine smuggling, which takes advantage of the porous civil aviation authorities in Colombia. As Caracol notes, employees are hesitant to report corruption in the ranks of their co-workers for fear of reprisal.
While around 14 planes are officially reported stolen each year, the true number of "narco-planes" leaving Colombia is likely much higher. A seven-month investigation of a single drug trafficking ring, for instance, resulted in the seizure of 25 airplanes. And if Lopez's figures are correct, more than 70 of the drug-laden aircraft which cross each year into Guatemala originate from Colombia alone. A high volume of "narco-planes" also land in Honduras.
Authorities have taken note of the high degree of airborne narcotrafficking. In the past year, Colombia's government has signed agreements with Panama and Honduras to cooperate on interdiction of aerial drug trafficking.