With Brazil’s presidential election slated for this fall, most in the country are hoping that its aftermath will bring a measure of certainty and economic stability that has been lacking of late in the country, particularly in the aviation industry. “Many politicians and respected business people were engaged in corruption and scandals, and the aviation community, particularly private aviation, has suffered a lot,” said Adolfo Aragon, Universal Weather and Aviation’s regional vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean. “That is really affecting local businesses and foreign investment, and our industry has been affected in a negative way.”
Aragon noted that while the business aviation industry has remained overall nearly stagnant for the past few years, he has seen some improvement among small business jets and turboprops outside the big cities, mainly because of the difficulty of access to some of the remote areas of the country. “Maybe it’s the only thing that’s a highlight that I could mention right now,” he told AIN.
Two years ago neighboring Argentina experienced a similar degree of uncertainty when it faced its own presidential election, according to Aragon. "Just now they have seen a resurgence, so we have seen more and more international traffic, top Fortune companies coming to Argentina."
Universal, which has long had a presence in Brazil, established an operations center in São Paulo near Congonhas Airport. “We are the only one that has in Brazil a 24-hour trip support operation with Brazilian people on site,” said Aragon. “That’s a big plus: we speak the language, we invoice in local currency, so we understand the local market.”
The facility has a staff of 15 dedicated to supporting both local operators on flights domestic and abroad, as well as Universal’s global customers on flights to and around Brazil. Another 40 are located throughout the country to provide ground handling services. “Tenure and seniority are very important for us,” noted Aragon, adding that many of the employees there have more than 10 years of experience. “They know what to do and how to do it.”
Domestic and International Operations
For Universal’s international customers, the staff there provides trip support including fuel coordination and meeting arriving aircraft at the all the major airports in Brazil. For aircraft that do not have the range to reach Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo from abroad, the company has offices staffed in Manaus and Recife, where passengers can clear customs before reaching their final destination. Those two airports also serve as tech stops for aircraft heading to the U.S. (Manaus) and Europe (Recife). Neither São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport nor Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport has FBOs, so Universal’s ground staff will meet passengers and crew planeside and transport them to the terminal in Mercedes-Benz vans to clear customs.
“We provide all the knowledge and expertise for operators when they come to the country,” said Aragon. “A big show like LABACE for example, many of the OEMs are using Universal to get their international airplanes temporary permits to fly domestically and even do demos. All those things we can support them as needed.”
Universal also has a joint agreement with Embraer, handling all the movements of the airframer's customers at its Sorocaba FBO and maintenance facility.
For its Brazilian clientele, Universal's local operations center leverages the company's global reach when they travel abroad, but with the private aviation industry sluggish in Brazil, some operators are looking to save some costs and have tried to either perform their own flight planning and trip support tasks or find a less-seasoned provider. “It is a normal movement, trying to look for cheaper options, so we have seen some operators testing smaller companies with little history or background in the business,” Aragon explained.
Along with its ground handling and trip support, Universal (Booth 1006) offers other interrelated benefits through two of its other companies. Air Culinaire operates 22 catering kitchens worldwide, and in locations where it does not have its own facilities, it establishes a network of known providers that it evaluates. Through its Universal Private Transport, which the company launched in 2016 in partnership with global security provider FAM International, Universal can also provide thoroughly screened ground transport.
Taken together, the three services can help avoid scheduling errors. “The big differentiator is if the boss has to change the schedule. Normally now you are going to have to make multiple calls to multiple providers to make sure there is no ripple effect down the line,” said Louis Smyth, the Houston-based company’s senior manager for corporate communications, “but since we’re controlling the ground transport as well as the other parts of the trip, we already know about the change, so we’re telling the next stop ahead of time, making sure everything is seamless.”