By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The prospect of holiday season airport chaos this year is being used as a proving ground for the World Cup rush, during which it is predicted that the country’s airports will be stretched beyond their operational limits. As TAM struggled to cope with the fallout of a 15-hour delay on a 95-minute flight from Campinas to Brasília last weekend, an increase in the number of customs officials was announced in an attempt to reduce waiting times.
Figures from INFRAERO, the Brazilian Airport Infrastructure Company, showed an alarmingly high 44.2 percent of flights scheduled before 8PM were running late on the last Friday before Christmas at the country’s busiest airport, Guarulhos. On Monday morning alone, seven flights were cancelled and a further four heavily delayed out of Rio’s Santos Dumont city airport, as São Paulo and Belo Horizonte were hit by bad weather.
There was good news for the industry on the whole, however, with the Association of Brazilian Airlines (ABEAR) announcing that 85 percent of flights between January and October of this year took off within the allowed period of punctuality, up to fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure time. The figure for the same period in the U.S. stood at 79 percent.
For the President of ABEAR, Eduardo Sanovicz, the increase in the number of flights and resulting hike in passengers passing through the terminals, makes the figures all the more impressive. “The Brazilian market has tripled in volume over the last ten years. We have over 100 million departing passengers a year, but with the same infrastructure that we had back then.”
In November, the number of passengers countrywide hit 6.6 million, two percent higher than October. TAM continues to be the market leader with a 39.1 percent share, with Gol in second place with 36.6 percent followed by Azul (16.5 percent) and Avianca (7.8 percent).
“Since August we have seen a consistent improvement in the average performance of the market. This November, we equaled the best performance of the year, which was registered in January,” continued Sanovicz.
The true test of the system will come in June, however, when hundreds of thousands of football (soccer) fans will stretch the network to the limit. Delays across just two days earlier this month after Rio and São Paulo were struck by storms on December 6th and 7th, look likely to cost Gol more than R$5 million in fines.
“Meteorological problems happen, and can occur anywhere in the world and create backlogs. But those backlogs have to be overcome,” the President of the Civil Aviation Authority (Anac) told Agencia Brasil. The chain reaction from the delays hit airports in Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, Brasília and Belo Horizonte, meaning that one strong storm was able to impact exactly half of the 2014 World Cup host cities, something that the authorities will be desperate to avoid during the tournament.
A government report published in 2011 suggested that without significant infrastructure improvements, several of the host city airports could be running at well over one hundred percent capacity. Little has been done since to improve the facilities in several key hubs, with Rio’s Galeão and Belo Horizonte’s Confins airports privatized only last month, leaving nagging doubts for international travelers wary of the real possibility of missing matches due to airport delays.