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Flying on trusted wings fifty years of surinam airways Pe t e r S a n c h e s

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Foreword

SLM celebrates its 50th birthday this year! Obviously, we cannot allow this milestone to pass by without fanfare: 2012 is not only a year of celebration and reflection; it is also a year to look ahead and make concrete plans for the future. You are holding our commemorative book, which looks back at the rich history of our company, starting from the 1950s when the extensive groundwork that was laid led to the formal establishment of Surinam Airways on 30 August 1962. Since then, all the men and women in our organisation have done everything they can to make Surinam Airways what it is today. We can confidently say that ‘we’ve come a long way’. But this doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Many challenges await us. Decisions made today have an impact on the future, and strategy has to be based on meticulous planning. Efficiency and proper planning are essential in a globalised world where economic borders are blurred and government protection of national companies is no longer a given. An environment such as this demands a dynamic organisation that can rapidly respond to changing situations and shifting markets.

Our highly competitive market requires faster and more strategic decisions, not only to survive but also so we continue to grow. We must have the potential to deal with these challenges and to contribute to Suriname’s development. And we will have to forge strategic alliances with other organisations to realise our ambitions. Last but not least, we will do all we can to improve and enhance our service to our clients in the coming years. We still believe that the ‘client is king’. We are truly grateful for your confidence in our company and look forward to your support for another 50 years. Ewald M. Henshuys President and CEO Surinam Airways

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Fifty years of SLM

5

9

In the beginning 10

Rudi Kappel

25

Surinam Airways in the making 28

Desi Deira

37

Spreading our wings Hanka Wolterstorff Stanley Alcantra Bert Maes

42 50

54 64

Frank ‘Pietje’ de Miranda

69

The turbulent 1980s Atta Mungra

74

Ronny Johan Mahangi Henk Venoaks

91

78

81

Flying on trusted wings Robbi Lachmising Ronny Calor

92

96

Astrid Christine Deira

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FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

A gilded first pilot’s brooch with the SLM logo. (Tropenmuseum collection)

105

The new century

123

Into the future

129

SLM Group

148

SLM Air fleet

100

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In the beginning

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8

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

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In the beginning 9

I

n the first half of the 20th century, the world was

to create an airline for domestic flights within Suriname.

abuzz with the new craze for flying. Air travel spread

KLM devised the plans but passed on all development costs

like wildfire in the few short decades after the Wright

to the Surinamese authorities, which were unable to raise

brothers’ first manned flight in 1903. That first flight was

enough funds to cover the high costs involved so the plans

just a few hundred metres, but planes were soon crossing

never progressed beyond the drawing board.

oceans and continents. Many countries set up their own national airlines. In Suriname too there was a growing

A young man with a passion

ambition to benefit from the huge opportunities this new

In the same period a young Surinamer by the name of Rudi

form of transport had to offer, both internationally and

Kappel was also working on plans for an airline company

especially – given that the country had so few roads –

in Suriname. He lived in Curaçao and had witnessed close

domestically.

up what the coming of air travel could mean. Post, freight

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

The first SLM cap from the 1960s. (Desi Deira collection)

and tourists were reaching their destinations much more Suriname became an international airline destination in

quickly than before and these sectors were developing at

the years around 1930, when American companies started

an unbridled pace. Kappel was convinced that it would be

flying passengers there. In 1929 Pan Am and the New

possible to start an airline for Suriname more cheaply than

York, Rio, & Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA) were the first to

the KLM proposal suggested.

fly from Miami to Paramaribo, and the following year Pan

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Am started domestic flights from Paramaribo to Nickerie.

The young aviation enthusiast’s plans struck a sympathetic

KLM followed in 1934 with Snip, a Fokker F-XVIII (PH-AIS)

chord at Justitia Pietas Fides (JPF). The JPF was an active

that flew from the Cape Verde Islands to Suriname and on

and influential association of Surinamers living and

to Curaçao. Suriname’s first airport was built near Zanderij

working on Curaçao – mostly for a few years at a time –

during the Second World War, initially for use by the US

and Kappel’s father was a member. These Surinamese

military. From 1949 onwards KLM flew a direct service

expats were keenly aware of what air travel could mean

between Paramaribo and Amsterdam. It would take many

to their homeland, and they gave the young Kappel their

years and a great deal of effort, however, before Suriname’s

enthusiastic support. So, in January 1949 the JPF contacted

own national airline got off the ground. The Dutch colonial

the Governor of Suriname requesting him to consider their

government always gave preference to the motherland’s

proposal as well as KLM’s. And they nominated Rudi Kappel

national airline KLM, and in 1947 it was granted a license

to represent the proposal.

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Rudi Kappel The father of air travel in Suriname

10

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

Ronald Elwin Kappel was born on 12

his heart set on other things anyway: air

Problems with the left motor’s fuel supply

November 1926 in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

travel. So Kappel went off to Miami to train

about 30 miles off the coast caused the

At the age of 4 he went to Paramaribo,

as a pilot at the Embry Riddle Aviation

plane to rapidly lose altitude. Kappel did

where he lived for some time with his

Training School. On 21 August 1948 he

not want to risk flying over the city to get

mother’s brother, Dolf de Boer. He

was awarded his licence to fly single and

to the airport so he decided to make an

attended Conradi School as a toddler and

multi-engine land- and seaplanes and

emergency landing.

later went to Hendrik School. He was

to fly blind. The license was validated in

reunited with his mother on Curaçao

Suriname on 15 February 1951.

when he was 13 years old. He was

The training plane of Embry Riddle Aviation Training School and Rudi Kappel on the school grounds. (Peter Sanches collection)

Fortunately it was successful and Kappel and his American passenger Maurice

affectionately known within the family as

Having gained his licence, Rudi’s mother,

de Jong were unharmed. In the years

Sonny. Friends called him Rudi.

Nora Kappel-de Boer, gave him an

following this false start, Kappel became

aeroplane. In Suriname it was given the

a true pioneer of Surinamese air travel.

Successfully leaving school on Curaçao

provisional registration number PZ-NAB.

He and his business partner, Herman van

with a MULO diploma, Kappel made his

But the plane never reached its homeport,

Eyck, laid the foundations for what would

first forays into the world of commerce.

because it crash-landed on Aruba on its

later become Surinam Airways.

But it soon became clear that he was not

way to Suriname on 5 February 1951.

cut out for this kind of work, and he had

On 23 August 1956 Rudi married Maria Louise Thijn. Although his entire working life was dominated by air travel, he also had other business interests, including Surinamese nature and mineral resources. In 1958 he joined D.C. Geykes on his expedition to Suriname’s Table Mountain, where he supervised the construction of an airstrip at the foot of the mountain. The aerial photos Kappel took of the Hertenrits (Deer Ridge) near Wageningen in the west of the country helped archaeologists map the region.

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11 Rudi Kappel was also a creditable amateur

at the Cabinet of the Governor on 26 September 1958. Although he was selftaught, his work was of such quality that seventeen of the 30 paintings on display were sold. The Surinamese government bought a work entitled De zittende man (The Seated Man), and the writer

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

poet and painter, and he exhibited work

and renowned art critic Lou Lichtveld (Albert Helman) also bought a painting. In February 1958 the ďŹ rst issue of the literary magazine Tongoni published one of Kappel’s poems.

Ronald Elwin Kappel. (Peter Sanches collection)

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12

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

In essence, the JPF’s plan was to initially focus on domestic

In an interview with Reveille newspaper published on

flights and expand gradually. They had conceived a network

14 November 1950, Fritz Barend, the official whose task

of routes stretching from Paramaribo to Groningen-

it was to oversee civil aviation in Suriname, set out the

Coronie-Nickerie in the west, Mariënburg-Tamarin-

government’s view of the situation. He explained that the

Moengo-Albina in the east, and inland to Chatillon-

government had organisational, financial and economic

Carolina. Initially, the fleet would consist of a Gruman

objections to KLM’s plans – although he did not specify

amphibian, which would later be supplemented with a

exactly what these objections were. The government

Cessna seaplane. Of course the key figure in the execution

had concluded that it was unfeasible to set up a service

of the entire plan was Rudi Kappel.

using this model at this time. When it came to private applications for licenses, of which Kappel’s was one, Barend

The governor presented the proposal to the national

said only that they would be given all due attention.

assembly, the States of Suriname, but they were unenthusiastic about the idea. The assembly members

A Dutch alternative

were more willing to throw in their lot with an experienced

While on a visit to the Netherlands that year, Barend

organisation than risk working with a man who still had to

met L. Jägers, the manager of Ypenburg Airport near

win his spurs. They reiterated their preference for KLM. A

The Hague. Jägers was prepared to come to Suriname to

second proposal by Kappel, which he submitted in 1950,

complete a plan for the founding of a Surinamese airline,

met with the same response. He had by this time returned

in anticipation of him becoming its director. When Jägers

to live in Suriname, and his second plan was an adapted

arrived in Suriname in 1951, one of the people he spoke

version of the first one, inspired by developments in the

to was Rudi Kappel. Initially Kappel promised Jägers his

country. One key factor was the increase in inland tourism,

support.

which was growing in importance. But Kappel was again unable to sway the assembly, and they demanded that

Jägers’ plans entailed supplementing the domestic

he clock up at least 1200 flying hours before he could be

network with external flights to Georgetown and Cayenne,

considered for a permit.

the capitals of neighbouring British and French Guiana, respectively. He estimated that a capital investment of 75,000 guilders would be required to set up the company – a sum that would be raised through private investors and the government. Jägers’ wanted to found a public limited

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13

Their hope was not without foundation, because

(Surinam Airways, SLM). To support these plans, a Surinam

discussions between the government and KLM had not yet

Airways initiative committee was set up, with members

led to any tangible results. Although the airline had made

drawn from Surinamese and Dutch residents.

adjustments to its proposal, the costs remained too high for Suriname – KLM’s plan required major State funding for the

Jägers’ experience in the industry clearly won him the

construction and improvement of the airstrips, as well as

government confidence, because on 21 August 1951 he

covering operational losses for the first five years. This was

was granted a temporary licence on condition that he

beyond what the government could offer, both financially

demonstrated that he was capable of setting up an efficient

and organisationally. This led to the States of Suriname

and financially healthy company within a year. He was also

revoking KLM’s license the same year. If the government

required to provide notification within three months of

was pinning all its hopes on Jägers at that time, then they

whether he accepted the concession. But Jägers remained

were initially disappointed because Jägers had not formally

silent from that moment on.

accepted the concession. Suriname was now fifteen years

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

company named Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij

behind British Guiana (present-day Guyana), because Rudi Kappel’s lack of success in winning the government’s

British Guiana Airways, which was also private initiative,

trust was perhaps the consequence of an incident that

was already flying five planes to 40 airstrips.

took place that spring. On 5 February 1951 he had made an emergency landing on Aruba in his twin-engine Cessna light aircraft with the provisional registration PZ-NAB. He ordered a new aeroplane, trained in Florida to become a ground instructor, and found a new business partner, the seasoned entrepreneur Herman van Eyck. The pair set up the Surinam Travel Bureau in 1951, with the aim of raising Suriname’s profile as a tourist destination. The first thing Kappel and Van Eyck did was publish a brochure, and they continued working together in the hope that they could be granted a licence to set up the Surinamese airline.

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15

A reversal of fortune

Kappel ordered his next plane, a Stinson Reliant (PZ-TAA)

Kappel and Van Eyck submitted several requests to the

in August 1952, and went to the United States himself to

States of Suriname. After lengthy debates, the assembly

pick it up and fly it back to Paramaribo in October. But on

decided to give the pair a chance. On 19 April 1952 they

a scheduled stop-off on Cuba, he, his co-pilot and his only

were issued a license to fly commercial freight flights for a

passenger were immediately taken into custody. Cuba was

maximum of a year, but they were forbidden to carry any

so politically unstable that this is how all foreigners were

paying passengers. Their first assignment came from the

treated at the time. The pilot described his adventures

famous Surinamese businessman and cinema owner Emile

in the Today newspaper of 18 October 1952: ‘The military

de la Fuente. He had them scatter flyers over Paramaribo

took everything out of the plane and a certain lieutenant

to promote two films. Kappel carried out the assignment,

by the name of Camboa threw my red, white and blue flag

flying the company’s first plane, the new Piper Cub that

on the ground. When I pointed out to him that it was our

had been bought to replace the plane that crashed on

national flag he threw it on the ground once more. They

Aruba. It had been transported by sea on the Oberon from

even removed the upholstery of the seating to see what

Aruba to Paramaribo. The plane’s home base was to be

was beneath it.’

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

The Kappel-Van Eyck Aviation Company’s first airplane, a Piper Cub PZ-NAC. (Peter Sanches collection)

Zanderij. On 15 April 1952, PZ-NAC was the first plane ever to be officially entered in the Suriname aviation register.

After a few days in a cell and various other hindrances, the

Kappel christened it Colibri.

plane and crew were released. The co-pilot flew to British Guiana; Kappel went home via Haiti, flying with KLM. On 19

The moment had now come to really get the airline off the

October Kappel himself flew the plane from Georgetown to

ground. The first thing they needed for the fleet Kappel

Zanderij. He was welcomed there by hundreds of people.

wanted to assemble was a home airport. They decided

The arrival of an aeroplane was in itself such a rare event

the best place was a plot of land at Zorg en Hoop, to the

that it would have caused a sensation anyway, but some

west of central Paramaribo. Kappel bought the land and

details of Kappel’s Cuban adventures had appeared in the

constructed an airstrip there with the cooperation of the

papers and this is sure to have sparked the curiosity of

colonial administration. The company built several inland

people living in Paramaribo.

airstrips itself, with its own financial resources. Private individuals paid for other airstrips because the colonial government refused to collaborate.

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17

Kappel also told the newspaper that despite the damage

Building on the foundations

to the plane and the turbulent events, he intended to

Not everything went as smoothly as hoped, however. On

start domestic flights with his new plane right away. And

24 October, three days after its first flight, the Stinson

he certainly lost no time in going about it, because on 21

Reliant was damaged while landing at Zorg en Hoop: one

October 1952 he used the Stinson Reliant to inaugurate

of the wheels got stuck in the still loose sand, making the

the brand-new runway at Zorg en Hoop Airport – up to

aircraft turn and then nosedive into the ground. There was

that point, he had only ever taken off from Zanderij.

some damage to the plane, but nobody was injured. The population was enormously sympathetic, and journalist Jo Meyer at De Tijd daily newspaper set up a special fund so

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

A Stinson Reliant PZ-TAA. (Peter Sanches collection)

that Kappel could repair the plane. He greatly appreciated this gesture, but it turned out to be unnecessary because the insurance company compensated for the damage. The building of a hangar large enough for two planes started in November. In the same month, a second Stinson Reliant (PZ-TAB) was added to the fleet. Spare parts for the damaged first plane were flown over with it. Kappel and Van Eyck’s achievements were making a great impression, not least on the initiative committee, which was meanwhile occupied with Jägers’ plans. The committee had calculated that a total of 150,000 guilders would be needed to set up the airline. Jägers only intended to come to Suriname once the money had been raised. The committee A Stinson Reliant and a Piper Cub at Zanderij. (Peter Sanches collection)

With a small number of prominent Surinamese people

published a prospectus on 22 October in an attempt to

aboard, he made a circuit over Paramaribo. This flight

attract financiers, but only two weeks later they threw in the

signalled the end of further expansion of the airport as

towel and suspended activities when Kappel and Van Eyck

part of the preparations for his own airline.

withdrew their cooperation for Jägers plans. They had made substantial investments in their own company after all, and

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18

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

First flight to Moengo. A Piper Cub arriving in Moengo. Rudi Kappel is welcomed on arrival.

wanted to continue with it. With that, the committee took

On the starting line

no time at all to arrive at a decision to disband. Two airlines

In the spring of 1953 – while preparations were fully

in Suriname would be one too many.

underway for the official creation of the Kappel-Van Eyck Aviation Company (Luchtvaartbedrijf Kappel-Van Eyck)

When, on 1 October 1952, Kappel was granted the per-

– Jägers at last accepted the concession. But it was too

Herman van Eyck (second from left) and Rudi Kappel (third from left) in front of the aircraft. (Peter Sanches collection)

mission he so desired – to transport paying passengers –

late for him now. His delay in meeting the conditions he

the last impediment to realising his goal of creating a

had been offered was not appreciated, and anyway there

fully-fledged airline had been removed. The intention to

was now a very satisfactory alternative: the Surinamese

create a national airline (SLM) at some point in the future

government was convinced that the Kappel-Van Eyck

still remained. The idea was that Kappel and Van Eyck’s

Aviation Company would be perfectly up to the task. Jägers

Postcard with a special postage stamp commemorating the first flight to Moengo. (Willy van Leesten collection)

company would be absorbed into the new national airline,

decided to cut his losses and he accepted Kappel and Van

the two men would take up positions within it, and their

Eyck’s offer to compensate him for his costs up to that

aeroplanes would come along with them.

point.

On 30 March 1953, the States of Suriname and the

The Dutch aviation world responded fiercely to events in

government, represented by Mr Smit, the Minister of Public

Suriname. Hostile articles appeared in Avia Vliegwereld

Works and Transport, openly expressed their support for

magazine, the official organ of the Royal Netherlands

the plans put forward by Kappel and Van Eyck. Much had

Aeronautical Association (RNAA), and Surinamese

changed in the preceding two years. A month later, Smit

newspapers responded in kind. The Dutch magazine was

established the Commission for Domestic Air Travel to

disparaging in its assessment of Kappel’s experience,

prepare the way for the setting up of an airline for domestic

and claimed that the more experienced Jägers had been

flights. The Commission was to issue its recommendations

sidelined and treated with contempt. ‘It could perhaps

in September in the form of four options. The government

be justifiably claimed that Jägers was too cautious in his

chose coastal transport by a single-engine plane, eastwards

approach and could better have kept going at a certain

on the Paramaribo-Moengo-Albina route and westwards on

point, accepting certain risks, but we are of the opinion

the Paramaribo-Coronie-Nickerie route. A helicopter would

that ultimately Suriname would have been better served

be used for transport to and from inland areas and any

by a tried and tested method rather than a “let’s just have

additional transport needs.

a go and see what happens” approach.’ In their turn, the Surinamese side accused the Dutch critics of only having

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19

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FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

Rudi Kappel is welcomed by District Commissioner E. Robles and Provincial Council Member, J.S.P. Kraag.

D.C. Robles posing with the commemorative plaque.

Formally handing over the post for transport. (Peter Sanches collection)

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21

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By the end of the summer of 1953 the first airstrips were

and conditions. The fact that the man who had been

ready and Kappel-Van Eyck Aviation Company could start

granted the license was from Suriname had added value

going about its real business of transporting passengers

locally, but the Dutch saw it as sign of short-sightedness.

on domestic routes. The first flight was on 22 August 1953,

The discussion turned into a debate on the relationship

from Paramaribo to Moengo, using the Piper Cub, Colibri,

between the colony and its mother country. Surinamese

the very first plane that Kappel had imported for business

papers raised the question of whether or not the time

use in 1952. For the two men, this flight marked the real

was ripe for total independence, now it was abundantly

beginning of their company’s journey, and it was a cause

clear that the Netherlands was merely protecting its own

for celebration. On 28 September the Colibri flew for the

interests in Suriname and further isolating the country from

first time to Coronie; Nickerie and Albina followed later.

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

Postcard with a special postage stamp commemorating the first flight to Coronie. (Peter Sanches collection)

Dutch interests at heart and ignoring Surinamese interests

its neighbours in the region.

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Surinam Airways in the making

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Surinam Airways in the making 25

I

n the corridors of power in the States of Suriname,

to gain more bush flying experience with British Guiana

there was a sense that the moment had arrived for the

Airways. Meanwhile, Herman van Eyck concentrated on

government to participate in Kappel-Van Eyck Aviation

pursuing negotiations in Suriname.

Company. The new company would bear the name Surinam Airways, its chief pilot would be Rudi Kappel with Herman

This placed the government on the spot. Its own attempts

van Eyck as its director. The idea was that the three parties

to create a national airline had failed, and the accusation

would each hold shares in the new enterprise.

that its own negligent attitude had forced Kappel and Van Eyck to cease activities did nothing for its reputation. The

These were admirable goals, but Kappel and Van Eyck

government had little choice but to enter into negotiations

were keen to point out that achieving them would require

with Van Eyck and set about preparing a practical aviation

that the government enact appropriate aviation policy.

policy. At last progress was made and agreements

There were still too few airstrips, and the complete lack of

were concluded. Matters were sorted out within just a

government investment meant that they had had to put a

few months of closing down Kappel-Van Eyck Aviation

lot of their own capital into infrastructure of this kind. But

Company. As had been intended from the start, the

this could not go on for much longer, because they simply

company of Kappel and Van Eyck was incorporated into

didn’t have the financial resources available. So the two

the SLM.

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

Bell-47G helicopter with Herman van Eyck (left) and Rudi Kappel in the passenger seat. (Peter Sanches collection)

men let the authorities know that the company’s future would be in jeopardy if no concrete governmental support

Speedy progress

were provided.

First of all, two Cessna 170B planes (PZ-TAC and PZ-TAD) and two Bell 47G helicopters (PZ-HAA and PZ-HAB) were

Unfortunately, however, neither the pressure from the

ordered for domestic routes. The Minister for Public Works

States of Suriname, on the one hand, nor from Kappel

and Transport, Mr Smit, set up a commission to prepare the

and Van Eyck, on the other, was sufficient to move the

way for SLM by formulating a legal framework and entering

government. When in 1954 there was still no sign of

into discussions with parties interested in participating in

progress, Kappel and Van Eyck took the drastic decision to

the company. On 17 May 1954, the commission passed a

close the company until the government stepped aboard.

memorandum to the government on the organisation and

They sold the Piper Cub, Colibri to the French Guianan

financing of the company.

Aeroclub and grounded the two Stinson Reliants with the intention of selling. Rudi Kappel left for a year to Guyana

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26

goods, including the two Stinson Reliants that had not yet FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

been sold. The two Cessna 170B planes were delivered on 16 December 1954. On 27 December 1954, one of them was taken on a test flight to Moengo. Although it was not announced this was the first flight under the name of SLM (in formation). There is no statutory record of the fact, but it is assumed that the company was founded on 1 January 1955. The first official flight took place on 6 January 1955 SLM’s second Cessna 170B at Zorg en Hoop Airport. The plane could carry four people. (Tropenmuseum collection)

The commission advised that the sum of 750,000 guilders

and attracted great interest from the general public. Its

would be required to set up the airline. This was too much

destination was Moengo. The aim was to have scheduled

money to raise in one go, but it would be possible to get

services to all districts operational by the end of March

things started with an initial capital investment of 150,000

that year.

guilders. The three parties were able to raise that sum: the government would invest 109,000 guilders, and Kappel and Van Eyck would put in a combined sum of 41,000 guilders.

Demonstration flight of the Bell-47G Helicopter on the Gouvernementsplein. (Peter Sanches collection)

There was a budget of 370,000 guilders for purchasing aeroplanes and helicopters – 170,000 for coastal transport and 200,000 for the helicopter company. The State would offer a loan to the partnership for the procurement of material and additional equipment. Third parties would also be offered the opportunity to participate in the share capital, with the government maintaining a majority interest. Kappel and Van Eyck were reimbursed for the costs – 258,000 guilders – that they had incurred building Zorg en Hoop Airport and the airstrips. Their contribution to SLM consisted partly of hard cash and partly of material

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27

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

Curious visitors posing near SLM’s Cessna 170B at Zorg en Hoop Airport. Part of SLM’s original logo can be seen on the plane. (Peter Sanches collection)

It is incorrectly assumed that Rudi Kappel piloted this

on 16 January. Each flight lasted 15 minutes and cost

first SLM flight: this honour went to the American aviator

7.50 guilders, a substantial amount at the time. On 18

Hayden. One of the pilots who had flown Cessnas to

January a demonstration took place of the airline’s Bell

Suriname from the United States, he was now employed

47G helicopter on the Gouvernementsplein (Colonial

by SLM.

Government Square, now Independence Square). Both public events attracted large numbers.

There was enormous public interest in the airline, so round trips were flown in the new planes over Paramaribo

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Desi Deira From pioneer to acting director

All of us there put our heart and soul into aviation 28 saw you had some talent he’d help you

all jacks-of-all-trades. We learned about

develop it. And he helped me in 1973 to

the job by studying books on aviation

go to New York to get my diploma as an

at home. There was no union and no

aircraft dispatcher and eventually become

overtime pay – you got a bite to eat and

head the domestic operation. We served

that was it. They were really good times,

35 airfields in the interior, operated the

and everyone was doing it out of love.

charters and flew lots of supply flights

All of us there put our heart and soul

for the Department of Geological Mining

into aviation.

Engineering and the Hydropower Office.

In 1963 and 1964 the government asked

The high point of my career came in

SLM to help with mapping the geology

1989. As the oldest of the five heads of

of the interior as part of the Operation

departments, and on the recommendation

I was working as a telegraph operator

Grasshopper project. Two missionaries

of the union, I was appointed acting

in Moengo when the district officer

from the Missionary Aviation Fellowship

director by the board of commissioners.

commented on my interest in aviation.

(MAF) flew to the savannah near Table

It gave me the chance to sign a lease deal

He gave me permission to do all sorts of

Mountain in a Piper Cub light plane with

with KLM for a jumbo jet, and we flew our

odd jobs around the airfield. So I ended

balloon tyres. The tree felling started and

first flight on it with our own crew. The

up spending lots of my free time making

the first airstrip was built. Planes were

company showed a profit again with these

signs legible again, like the ones around

rented to transport government staff

flights in 1991 and 1992.

the runway saying ‘Watch out for low-

and materials. In the same period there

flying aircraft’.

were also planes flying to the districts: to

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

overseeing the loading of planes. We were

Left to right: SLM’s original employees in front of the companies first office building at Zorg en Hoop Airport: C. King (head of administration), S. Karijodrono (allrounder), Ramsingh (all-rounder), J. Lijkwan (administration), D. Deira (passengers and luggage handling), H. Heilbron (passengers and luggage handling), L.Rambhadjan (passengers and luggage handling). (Desi Deira collection)

SLM50+ned-engcs4_HT.indd 28

Moengo, Albina, Coronie and Nickerie. The second director of SLM-in-formation, Mr Zaal, asked me to join the staff, and

In the late 1960s and early 1970s SLM

that’s when my career there really began.

felt the urge to fly beyond its borders. It

The workforce wasn’t that big at the

was employing about 80 or 90 people

time. Seven people did everything: the

by that time. The director Bert Maes was

clerical work, dealing with passengers and

a no-nonsense sort of chap, and if he

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29

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

SLM’s office at Zorg en Hoop Airport. (Tropenmuseum collection)

SLM50+ned-engcs4_HT.indd 29

The departure of Van Eyck... and Kappel

on 15 April, and the Aero Commander (PZ-TAF) arrived in

SLM-in-formation got off to a flying start. As early as

Paramaribo on 18 July.

1956, the Cessna 170B planes were becoming too small for passenger demand. Like the earlier Piper Cubs, these

Herman van Eyck would not participate in further

were small light aircraft that could carry no more than four

developments as the company’s director because he

passengers. The company started to explore the possibility

was replaced by Nel Zaal that same year. Since then, Van

of purchasing larger planes and initially considered the

Eyck’s role in Suriname’s aviation history has received little

twin-engine Aero Commander or Bonanza. They chose to

attention. But it is thanks to Van Eyck that Kappel could

go with the Aero Commander 520 and a Cessna Bobcat.

realise his plans. Setting up a private aviation company

The Cessna (PZ-TAE) made its inaugural flight to Moengo

in conditions that lack any form of infrastructure or

30-07-12 23:40


30

On 30 September 1958 Rudi Kappel also pulled out of the FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

company. He kept his shares in SLM, but terminated his employment with the company and went to work for the mining company Suralco. Many people thought it strange that Kappel should decide to move into this industry, but in fact a few years earlier he had worked together with some other people developing plans for setting up a similar company in Suriname. His farewell party was held in the hangar at Zorg en Hoop Airport. De West newspaper wrote that, ‘Kappel has given himself the greatest gift of all: he has immortalised his name through his pioneering work in aviation in Suriname. He is immortal because he was the soul of the company’s founding organisation.’ His new career was not destined to last long, however. On 6 October 1959 Rudi Kappel and fellow pilot Vincent Fajks were flying supplies for Operation Grasshopper, an important government project charged with producing a Herman van Eyck in SLM’s office at Zorg en Hoop Airport. (National Archive/ Spaarnestad Photo/ Willem van de Poll)

governmental support is no easy task – and it is highly

geological map of Suriname. Fajks was at the controls as

capital intensive. Rudi Kappel had a dream and he had

the plane made its way to drop off materials at an airstrip

ideas, but he was not a great businessman and he had

that was being laid out at the confluence of the Upper

limited financial resources as a young man. Van Eyck

Tapanahoni and Paloemeu rivers. There was probably

provided the capital and was the ideal partner to negotiate

a failure of the right engine of the Aero Commander

with business contacts and the government. In fact they

AC-520 (PZ-TAG) and the plane crashed, killing both

were very well matched: Kappel took care of the flying

Kappel and Fajks.

and Van Eyck concentrated on the business side and management of the operation.

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Operation Grasshopper

31 ten tons and could transport five tons.

out to produce a systematic inventory of

It could land safely on a 250 metre-long

the potential of inland forestry, mineral

runway, but needed 600 metres to take

reserves and hydropower.

off. While on a supply flight in 1960, the aeroplane crashed near Oelemari. A Chase

But at that time there was no

YC-122 replaced it until a new Northrop

infrastructure at all. First, airstrips had

Raider arrived.

to be laid at Table Mountain, on the

Northrop YC125Raider during Operation Grasshopper in Suriname’s interior. (Peter Sanches collection)

Kayser mountain range at Zuid River,

The seven airstrips in the interior were

near Paloemeu River, on the Kabalebo

completed one by one between 1959 and

and Sipaliwini rivers and at the Oelemari

1962. In the years that followed they were

In the late autumn of 1958, Frank Essed,

and the Coeroeni estuaries. Any and all

used intensively for flying in field teams.

the former Minister of Construction,

material used in the construction of these

But their function was not limited only

issued an order for the Geological Mining

airstrips had to be brought in by air to

to this, and in 1959 and 1960, they were

Engineering Department (Geologisch

these locations in the jungle. SLM was

recognised as official landing sites.

Mijnbouwkundige Dienst, GMD) to carry

responsible for all these flights.

After D.J.H. Ferrier (ed.), Gedenkboek van het

out a survey of all of Suriname’s geological

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

Suriname ten-year-plan and was carried

Ministerie van Natuurlijke Hulpbronnen (2010)

and natural resources. Work was to be

To this end, in 1959 SLM chartered a

carried out in the areas of soil science,

three-engine Northrop YC-125 from an

forestry and geological investigation.

American company. The plane weighed

The researchers would be operating from seven small operational bases deep in the interior with airstrips that still had to be laid. SLM was assigned the task of providing all air transport for these activities.

Operation Grasshopper was a massive enterprise, even on an international scale. The project was financed through the

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32

FLYING ON TRUSTED WINGS

Rudi Kappel in front of an AC-520 Aerocommander. He had a fatal accident in this type of airplane. (Peter Sanches collection)

Suriname was devastated by Kappel’s death. Even the

Thousands of people lined the route to pay their final

Prime Minister of the Dutch Antilles, Mr Jonckheer,

respects to Rudi Kappel and Vincent Fajks. A military band

travelled to Suriname to attend his burial, which had

accompanied the procession of hearses and cars bedecked

the character of a State funeral – something that had

with funeral wreaths. Family members were joined by the

been sanctioned at governmental level. On 10 October,

Governor of Suriname, Jan van Tilburg; the Prime Minister

the cortege left the mortuary at Lands Hospital and

of Suriname, S.D. Emanuels; and his Dutch Antillean

proceeded along Tourtonnelaan, Koninginnestraat, Prins

counterpart, Efraïn Jonckheer; the Council of Ministers;

Hendrikstraat, Roseveltkade, Grote Combéweg and

the chair and members of the States of Suriname; the

Gravenstraat to Nieuwe Oranjetuin Cemetery. Kappel’s

members of the Advisory Council and other high councils

coffin was draped in the Dutch flag and Vincent Fajks’

of State; representatives of SLM, Operation Grasshopper

with the British flag.

and Suralco; and of course many other relatives, friends, acquaintances and fellow citizens. All the newspapers carried extensive reports of the death and funeral of Rudi Kappel. The 12 October 1958 edition of De Ware Tijd describes how between 20,000 and 30,000 people lined the route. In a special evening session of the States of Suriname, Kappel and Fajks were commemorated and Kappel’s contributions to Suriname were praised.

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33

FIFTY YEARS OF SURINAM AIRWAYS

Rudi Kappel and a Cessna Bobcat at Zorg en Hoop Airport. (Peter Sanches collection)

Rudi Kappel was immensely important to the development

domestic tourism and interest in Suriname. Despite all this,

of aviation in Suriname. As well as being one of the

he never saw his greatest ambition fulfilled, namely the

founding partners of SLM, in 1952 he was one of the

development by SLM of its own international network flown

initiators of Aeroclub Suriname, where many pilots

with its own fleet.

gained their first licence. We should not underestimate the importance of the Suriname Travel Bureau either, which Kappel opened with Herman van Eyck to promote

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Flying on trusted wings English version