TAP gets support from Azul for fleet renewal and TAP Express launch

In a deal to complete a long-awaited fleet renewal at PGA Portugália, which has been delayed for a number of years due to investment limitations, TAP will replace its current fleet of ATR turboprops, Embraer ERJ145s and Fokker 100s on a like-for-like basis with eight ATR 72s and nine Embraer 190s.

TAP Portugal will acquire a mix of regional turboprop and jet equipment from Brazilian carrier, Azul Airlines over the first six months of this year to help it restructure its PGA Portugália Airlines business and relaunch it under the TAP Express brand. The airline will also launch Ponte Aérea, a new shuttle operation concept between Lisbon and Porto.

In a deal to complete a long-awaited fleet renewal at PGA Portugália, which has been delayed for a number of years due to investment limitations, TAP will replace its current fleet of ATR turboprops, Embraer ERJ145s and Fokker 100s on a like-for-like basis with eight ATR 72s and nine Embraer 190s.

This will bring the average age of the PGA Portugália fleet down from the current 19-20 year figure – some of its Fokker 100s have been in service for more than 25 years. At the same time the airline will be rebranded as TAP Express with a branding consistent with the mainline operation.

The new aircraft will also significantly boost the operations capacity with available seating up 47 per cent through the replacement of the smaller 50-seat jet and turboprop models with the 70-seat plus equipment.

“The new TAP is now a reality,” said Fernando Pinto, Chief Executive Officer, TAP Portugal. “We are not only renewing our regional fleet, but also adding consistency to TAP brand and product by reinforcing its commercial identity and redesigning our product and services as well.”

The new aircraft will be delivered before July 2016 and some of these are understood to be sourced from Azul Airlines’ existing fleet and orderbook. The Brazilian carrier is owned by David Neeleman, who’s Gateway Group won a tender to acquire a 61 per cent share in TAP in partnership with Portuguese bus company, Grupo Barraqueiro.

They will support the launch of the new ‘Ponte Aérea’ shuttle service between Lisbon and Porto which will simplify travel on Portugal’s busiest domestic route from the end of March this year. TAP Express will offer an at least hourly offer between the two cities from early morning until late evening with a half hourly schedule during peak times.

This will better serve the strong point-to-point demand on the route offering greater flexibility for travellers, while also enhancing connection options via its Lisbon hub for transfer passengers.

“The ‘Ponte Aérea’ will offer very competitive prices to travel between Porto and Lisbon and an innovative product, with dedicated check-in counters and boarding gates along with fast and easy passenger boarding,” explained Pinto.

The emergence of a ‘new’ TAP Portugal is part of a strategy to strengthen the airline in the competitive European market and use its strong regional, European and International networks to grow its hub activities and in particular become a bridge for travellers between European and South America.

The investments already underway include orders for 53 new aircraft, a €60 million outlay to retrofit the cabin interiors of its current fleet, €11 million to retrofit twelve A320-Family aircraft with Sharklet winglet technology, €2 million for a new digital reservations platform and this increase and renovation of the PGA Portugália fleet.

“I am sure these are historic days for TAP, now that the airline has the investment capacity to expand and turn into a more modern and competitive airline, one that is responsive to the needs of Customers and strongly committed to serve the markets where it operates,” added Pinto.

The partnership between Azul and TAP further strengthens long-standing ties between Portugal and Brazil and will enable the Brazilian carrier to easily shift resources while its home market recovers from its current recession.

Brazil–Portugal relations have spanned over four centuries, beginning in 1532 with the establishment of São Vicente, the first Portuguese permanent settlement in the Americas and continuing through the Portuguese Empire.

These historical links mean that Portugal has remained a strategic European departure point for air services into Brazil. Currently TAP Portugal connects the country’s capital, Lisbon, with eleven destinations in Brazil, as well as offering non-stop flights between Oporto and Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. This network encompasses Belem, Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Natal, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Sao Paulo and Viracopos.

There are currently 17 airlines offering flights between Europe and Brazil, according to OAG data, and TAP Portugal dominates this market with almost 990,000 one-way seats available this year, based on published schedules. This is a 25.6 per cent share of the total market from Europe to Brazil, ahead of TAM Airlines (15.5 per cent share), Air France (11.0 per cent), Lufthansa (9.1 per cent) and Iberia (6.5 per cent).