While business aviation traffic in Brazil continues to grow, the infrastructure needed to serve that traffic is slowly evolving as well, in advance of the country’s hosting two of the world’s top sporting events: the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. But for those used to the North American model of an FBO, there are still some differences at many of Brazil’s airports.
“I would say it’s more closely along the European model,” said Tim Bartholomew, manager of international trip support for Rockwell Collins Flight Services (Stand 2007). “Just like in Europe, where there’s not really an FBO, you either have a main terminal and a general aviation terminal or just one terminal.”
At the larger airports in Brazil, FBOs do exist, with local aviation company Líder Aviação (Stand 5107) certainly the most visible, operating 24 such facilities around the country. BR Aviation (Stand 2002), the aviation fuels division of Brazilian national petroleum refiner Petrobras, has FBO facilities at 13 airports, including Congonhas, Guarulhos and Sorocaba in São Paulo; Jacarepaguá in Rio de Janeiro; Brasília; Bacacheri near Curitiba; and Uberlândia (MG), Porto Seguro (BA), Bonito (MS) and Cuiabá (MT).
At some airports, such as São Paulo’s Congonhas, one of the busiest business aviation airports in the country, BR Aviation faces competition including Líder, TAM’s private aviation facility and Target, and the amenities and services offered by each can vary. Aside from the major players, most other FBOs in the country are either single or perhaps two-location companies, which in many cases have grown out of hangars operated by charter providers that decided to offer services to other aircraft operators.
FBOs in Brazil face two handicaps when compared to those in North America. The first is, most locations in Brazil do not operate their own fuel farms or tanker trucks and (aside from the BR Aviation facilities) are not even permitted to sell fuel. While they may request the arrival of a fuel truck, all transactions are handled either by the fuel distributor (such as BR Aviation, Shell or Air BP) or, at some airports, a third-party into-plane agent.
At Brazil’s airports there is little distinction made as to what type of aircraft are being fueled. “Basically, the refueling for business airplanes is the same as for airlines,” said Andre Camargo, Universal Weather & Aviation’s country manager for Brazil. “At some airports we have small trucks dedicated for general aviation, but they are really focused on commercial flights.” FBO operators are looking to change this, with some suggesting that the first steps will be when the FBOs are allowed to purchase fuel from the airport tanks and hold it their own trucks; in essence, using them as mobile fuel storage units.
Another difference is in the handling of international passengers. “The biggest difference between the FBOs in the U.S. and the FBOs in Brazil is that we don’t have the customs and immigration area specific for executive aviation,” said Ana Paula Martin, Líder’s international operations manager. “It’s necessary to go to the main terminal with the passengers and crew from the commercial airlines, and it’s all in one place, all together in the main terminal not inside an FBO like you have in America, for example.”
Though Martin said authorities often accept requests for priority service for private aviation passengers, there is no dedicated line for them.
That need to visit the main passenger terminal for customs and immigrations procedures on arrivals and departures may cause some operators to skip using an FBO and leave the airplane parked where they are initially directed, according to Universal’s Camargo. “Most of the customers prefer not to reposition the aircraft primarily because before you carry out the procedures, you need to park in a designated space,” he told AIN. “Once you have the procedures processed, then you can reposition, but sometimes operators prefer not to do this because it takes time and they have to carry out the same procedure on the way out, so you need to reposition the aircraft back to the airport parking spot in order to leave the country.”
Another factor, said Camargo, is that while domestic passengers can board the aircraft at the FBO hangar, international passengers are not allowed to. “You have to go to the [main passenger] terminal and then go to the aircraft. Certainly the hangar, the VIP rooms, even the private ramp sometimes become useless because of those requirements.”
Líder, which opened its first FBO at Belo Horizonte in 1958, added its second 12 years later at Rio’s Santos Dumont Airport. Since then the company has grown to be the biggest aviation services provider in the country. Its latest project is a new FBO/107,639-sq-ft hangar at Galeão International Airport in Rio, which the company expects to be completed early next year.
At Congonhas, which is hosting this week’s LABACE show, it offers six hangars–three for fixed-wing aircraft and three for helicopters–along with four VIP lounges; while its headquarters at Belo Horizonte’s Pampulha Airport has five hangars, two lounges and an operations office. Most of the company’s locations include hangars but some, such as Curitiba’s Afonso Pena International Airport and Porto Alegre’s Salgado Filho International Airport, have only executive lounges to greet arriving passengers.
While Líder operates at many airports in the country, it, like most ground-handling companies, will dispatch agents to assist customers traveling to those where it doesn’t have a physical presence. At those airports lacking an FBO or private hangar, ground handlers will typically make all the necessary arrangements.