Photography courtesy Nature Air SA Airline and The Institute of Costa Rican Tourism
Since my very first travels at the age of 18, I have prided myself on being a traveller, the nom de guerre which nebulously defines anyone that, well, goes from here to there.
And yet, within that lazy definition lies the truth of the traveller — that the journey is the focal point of the action, the destinations are merely points of reference for the true meaning of what occurs along the way.
NatureAir, Costa Rica’s spirited domestic airline, engages the soul of the traveller. Quite impressive, for an airline, considering its longest flight lasts a little less than an hour, not even enough time to read the in-flight magazine.
The Republic of Costa Rica is one of Central America’s most stable countries. Although not big (about the size of West Virginia, in the United States), Costa Rica is incredibly mountainous, with mostly poor roads and no operational railways. The country is known for its good educational system, vast bio-diversity and the inspiring lack of any armed forces—all of which makes it one of the hottest destinations on the planet.
NatureAir flies to 16 destinations in Costa Rica and also operates international flights to Nicaragua. The airline, formerly known as Travelair, has brought reliability and, dare I say, fun back into flying. The all twin-engine fleet of De-Haviland Twin-Otters is painted in tropical motifs and featuring panoramic windows. My flight to southern Costa Rica was like a sky tour through constantly changing ecosystems and topographies.
The captain talked us through various landmarks and told anecdotes, reminding me more of a tour than a regular scheduled flight. I even shot the cockpit an incredulous look when he announced we were landing. I completely forgot this was a scheduled flight. This 50-minute joy ride would have taken eight hours by car.
Owned and operated by the Khajavi family, originally from San Francisco, California, NatureAir is changing the way people travel in Costa Rica. The airline is one of the fastest growing companies in Costa Rica. Traditionally, air travel in the region has been unreliable and plagued with a lack of customer service. The Khajavi family was previously involved in the tourism industry, developing nature-based sustainable tourism projects in Central America for many years before the opportunity to run an airline arose.
NatureAir is now the chosen airline of the best tour operators and hotels in Costa Rica. It’s 92 per cent on-time performance has made it a darling of the industry that depends on clockwork; tour operators cannot afford to have guests or guides sitting on a runway in the middle of the jungle.
Over the course of 14 days in Costa Rica, I took eight flights with NatureAir and was amazed to see the “painted ladies’’ appear over the canopy or the beach and touch down within minutes of scheduled arrival. Although Costa Rica is a small country, it would have been virtually impossible to accomplish my itinerary if I did not fly.
Arriving at the runway in Drake Bay to catch my departing flight was like a transportation cocktail. I took a mixture of horse, boat and truck, over logs, through waves and under monkeys. After four days in the incredibly lush Osa Peninsula, one’s mind tends to go to mush. Over those four days, I had somehow managed to lose my ticket for the return flight to San Jose. My trepidation was relieved when the pilot assured me that NatureAir was an e-ticket airline and all I needed was my name. Clearly, NatureAir is accustomed to travellers who really like to leave it all behind when we hit the road.
Apart from the efficiency in operations, NatureAir plays an important socio-economic role in Costa Rica, particularly in educating children and trying to quell illegal forestry and poaching. NatureAir believes that by teaching children about protecting their natural heritage, this knowledge will rub off on parents and families too. Saving the region’s forests and wildlife is complementary to NatureAir’s commitment to establishing bio-diversity trusts.
The company is also helping to teach English in rural schools, directly hiring teachers and providing teaching amenities. NatureAir believes that if a child can speak English, his or her potential earnings are 40 per cent more than one who speaks only Spanish, as indicated by actual studies.
NatureAir, by name and by nature, shows a maternal interest in preserving the environment. It is pursuing the goal to become the world’s first and only zero-emissions airline. By supporting a number of clean-energy projects throughout Costa Rica and Nicaragua, NatureAir is committed to offsetting all of its carbon emissions from its scheduled and chartered flights. This would be a watershed moment in the aviation industry and elevate NatureAir into a class of its own.M