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Yk airline in Colombia

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 2, 2011

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknife's Summit Air is working on cutting edge science in South America.

The charter company began work with the Carnegie Institution of Science in the Colombian Amazon jungle at the beginning of January.

David Mathieson, president and chief pilot of Summit Air, and the airline's operations manager, Chuck Depew, ferried a Dornier 228 turboprop passenger plane to South America and arrived at the Captain Luis Fernando Gomez Nino Air Base outside of Villavicencio, Columbia Jan. 3.

Since then, they have been assisting the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology with carbon mapping.

"The sensors and the equipment that are on board the aircraft are actually worth a lot more than the aircraft," Mathieson said with a laugh.

The high-resolution maps, created by airborne-laser technology, satellite mapping and ground-based plot surveys show the carbon stored in tropical forest vegetation and the carbon emitted by land-use practices.

Greg Asner is the principal investigator for the Department of Global Ecology, based in California, and is in Colombia working with Mathieson and Depew.

He said this project is just the beginning.

"We just finished the world's biggest mapping so far and we plan for much more, and we want Summit to be our partner."

He said the mapping is critical to the United Nations' Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) program.

With the maps being produced, scientists can determine how much carbon is present in an area and how much is being released during deforestation or degradation.

Carnegie is the world leader in carbon mapping, Asner said. Their work in Colombia even attracted the attention of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who visited the base on Jan. 21 and went for a ride in the aircraft.

During the flight, Depew flew the plane while Asner explained how the mapping process works.

"To have the president on the plane, that was definitely icing on the cake," he said.

Summit's work in Colombia finishes on Saturday, but that won't be the end of the airline's South American adventure.

"We have entered a long-term contract with Carnegie and we will be returning to South America in May," said Mathieson.

"The next place will be Peru, then off to Ecuador and then moving slowly across over to Hawaii and basically it's going to be a global project," he said.

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