Brazil’s regional development plan calls for 270 new regional airports. But that’s a number many see as unrealistically high. Passenger numbers have been growing 10 percent per year, but much of the Brazilian population still has no easy access to airports. There are only around 130 airports with scheduled airline service is a country the size of the U.S.
The country has laid a lot of marble (i.e. terminals) but not enough concrete. And furthermore, business aviation is viewed as less important than airlines–tolerated only until commercial flights need the airport access. This has given impetus to the development of private business airports; business aircraft, unfortunately, are seen as “toys for the rich” here, rather than valuable business tools.
Nowhere is airport capacity more of a political hot potato than São Paulo, the southern hemisphere’s biggest city, a sprawling metropolis of 11 million inhabitants at around 2,800 feet above sea level, with atrocious traffic congestion. Here AIN offers a summary of the main airports in the São Paulo area:
Brazil’s first new privately-owned airport dedicated to business aviation is taking shape, only a year after the law was changed to allow such airports to charge landing fees–rather than just hangar rent and other fees. Aerovale (situated at Caçapava, on the road to Rio from São Paulo–after Sãn José dos Campos) was in fact designed before this change, with enough space for aircraft and industrial units to prosper without charging landing fees.
Rogerio Penido, the owner of (and sole investor in) the new Aerovale airport, told AIN during LABACE 2014 that the single Runway 34-16 is being paved and should be completed this month. A spokesperson at the show who works for Penido Contructora e Pavimentadora (a 30-year-old company owned by Penido) told AIN that the first aircraft landing could take place next month.
Penido said, “We hope to inaugurate [Aerovale] by December 31st to start the new year with everything open.” He said that it had “brought a lot of interest from people” and added, “We are quite happy with the contacts we’ve made [here at LABACE 2014].” A big model of the airport was on display on the Aerovale booth at the show.
Campo de Marte
Centrally situated only two miles north of São Paulo city center, but further away from the financial district than Congonhas, Campo de Marte is very popular with helicopters and right across the street from the city’s main convention center. It’sthe only existing airport where business aviation doesn’t face competition from airlines, in part because the runway is only 5,200 feet long, there is no ILS, and since the runway is old, it is not known if it could support large airliners. Campo de Marte has been under threat from real estate interests, with the mayor last year proposing to restrict it to helicopter operations. that led to an instant bounty for builders eyeing land under the approach and departure paths.
Campo de Marte is favored by some as a better location for LABACE than Congonhas, and certain representatives at ABAG have indicated to AIN that they would like to move LABACE there from 2015 onward, given that the show could be squeezed out of Congonhas by the airlines, anyway–and possibly at short notice. ABAG is headquartered at Congonhas, but could easily move.
Campo de Marte belongs to the federal government (as there is a small airbase there) but the land belongs to the city. The situation at Campo de Marte is somewhat similar to that of Santa Monica in Los Angeles, but there are more alternatives in southern California (Long Beach for example). Closing Campe de Marte to fixed-wing operations would arguably increase the value of land around the airport, as high-rise buildings could be built in the approach and departure corridors.
The biggest freight airport in Brazil, Campinas is 60 miles northwest of São Paulo. It was selected by airline Azul as its hub around five years ago, leading to rapid growth in passenger numbers. The airport was privatized earlier this year, and the new owners are required by their concession to invest to ultimately make it Brazil’s largest airport–given that the current leader Guarulhos doesn’t have any more room for expansion. The rich Brazilian family that donated the land for Guarulhos in the 1940s for use as a public airport has argued that the privatization violates the condition of the donation, and it wants the land back. The family has even gotten a court to order that investors must be notified of the suit.
The second new business aviation-dedicated airport after Aerovale, Catarina will be situated on the way to Sorocaba from São Paulo, at São Roque. During LABACE last year, on August 13, Brazil’s civil aviation minister signed an authorization for the development of the airport, but there was a delay of almost a year while the airport waited for environmental permits. Earth-moving started in June this year, and the plan is to have the airport open in time for the 2016 Olympics, to be hosted in Rio.
The airport is believed to be state-owned. The recent loss of half the scheduled business/GA slots (from four per hour down to two per hour) doesn’t bode well for the future. Airlines are taking over, with Azul looking to establish a greater presence, though TAM and GOL dominate at present. Being a small airport just south of the city center, it is a popular domestic hub and has been the site for LABACE 11 times now, since it was first held back in 2003.
This airport took over from Congonhas in the 1970s as the main international airport serving São Paulo. It was privatized this year and GRU is the consortium operating on a leasehold basis. Business aviation does use the airport, but there is no room for a third runway.
Lots of development took place for the World Cup in terms of installing infrastructure, such as customs, etc., to deal with international business aviation flights. However the airport apparently did not host any international flights, so the scheme failed. Geographically, it is halfway between São Paulo and Campinas. Also, it is too close to mountains to extend the runway and has a steep approach/departure path at one end. The airport was established in 1942 and is now named after Comandante Rolim Adolfo Amaro, the founder of TAM Airlines, who died in 2001. It is now dedicated to general aviation.
Filing the first of the proposals to receive federal permission to operate as a privately-owned, public, business aviation airport, Aerodromo Privado Rodoanel, some 10 miles southwest of Congonhas, hit a roadblock in 2013. City authorities refused a construction permit on the grounds that the project was not part of the city’s master development plan, and also because of a need for environmental permissions complicated by its proximity to a reservoir.
São José dos Campos
This airport is Embraer’s base, but the manufacturer does not own the airfield. Even so, this is not seen as a serious growth opportunity for business aviation in general-despite its good location between Rio and São Paulo, and a long runway. There is also an airbase and a passenger terminal, which receives a few scheduled flights per day. There is some business aviation, but the airport tends to be seen as Embraer’s back yard. The Air Force’s CTA (Center for Aeronautical Technology) is also based at São José and is seen by some as jealously guarding access to the airfield.
This airport, around 60 miles to the west of São Paulo, is not an international facility, so incoming international aircraft usually have to route via Guarulhos or Campinas. Being on the far side of Sorocaba city makes it less attractive as an alternative São Paulo airport, due to a double-dose of Brazilian traffic. There is no scheduled service and no control tower. The city’s mayor told AIN that a contract for a new tower will be put out to bid in the next two months with a runway extension being considered in the long term. It has a passenger terminal, becausethere used to be scheduled service. It is becoming popular as a base for business aviation MRO facilities such as those serving Gulfstream, Dassault, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Embraer.
Bombardier told AIN that (despite rumors) it would not be taking the large hangar next to Embraer’s, but Dassault is reportedly in negotiations about taking the facility. Expanding its existing facility at the airport is apparently seen by the French company as an interim step.