Earlier this year, the city of La Paz in Bolivia launched the world’s longest urban aerial cable-car system, a veritable subway in the sky that has brought relief to millions of the city’s commuters who had faced increasingly longer commutes in mini-buses, taxis and cars on La Paz’s narrow congested streets.
An alternative to costlier and less practical public transportation projects such as an underground subway, this new mode of mass transit offers Bolivians not only a shorter and more comfortable commute, but is also a greener alternative that showcases the city’s natural mountainous beauty.
During the first two months of its opening in May 2014, around 2 million passengers rode the skies.
A key member of the cable-car system’s construction team was the AS350 B3 helicopter operated by the Bolivian Air Force, which hung all 4,000 meters of the cable network.
René Filipovich (pictured below), part of helicopter crew that helped realize this unprecedented aerial transit system, talks shop:
What else can you tell us about this initiative?
The Bolivian government decided to install three lines of cable cars to ease the intense traffic in La Paz and to speed up and improve the movement of vehicles and citizens.
For example, just the red line alone has 100 cabins with a capacity of 10 people each, so as many as 1,000 people can be transported at the same time (and eventually 18,000 people an hour when all there lines are running).
This is the first mass-transit project of its kind to be performed in Bolivia and will likely improve the daily lives of people in La Paz and its surrounding areas.
Why did the Bolivian Air Force choose the AS350 B3?
It was clear to us that the helicopter was the best possible machine to help us hang the cables themselves.
Our team at the Bolivian Air Force worked with the builder to assess several options for the project; we concluded together that the AS350 B3 was the best equipped helicopter to perform the aerial work thanks to its endurance, maneuverability and capacity to lift large loads.
How long did it take to install the cables?
It took us five days to complete the installation of the red and yellow lines, and just three days to install the green line.
La Paz is the world’s highest capital city at 3,650 meters or 12,000 feet above level sea. How did the altitude impact the mission?
Thanks to the helicopter’s good performance at high altitudes, the entire installation mission ran smoothly within the expected time frame, even when we faced very strong winds towards the end of the project.
What impact has this cable-car system had on La Paz and the surrounding areas?
So far, the main impact of the new cableway has been the improvement of the connection between the city center and the surrounding neighborhoods of La Paz. A trip that took 45 minutes a few months ago takes only 10 minutes today by cable car.
What other Airbus Helicopters aircraft does the Bolivian Air Force operate and for what missions?
The Bolivian Air Force operates three different types of Airbus Helicopters aircraft – the AS350 B3, the EC145 and the Super Puma.
We use the AS350 B3 and the EC145 for a wide variety of missions such as executive transport, firefighting, SAR operations and transport of supplies.
The main difference between these two aircraft is that the EC145 has more capacity for passenger transportation, so depending on the size of the mission we use one or the other.
The Super Puma is mainly used to fight drug trafficking and to support public security in the region.
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