Rio’s downtown airport booming once more; Galeao will benefit from Olympic bid victory

Image: Azul in Rio
“O Rio de Janeiro continua Azul” – and it certainly does: Downtown Santos Dumont’s opening up to both Azul and Webjet means 2009 traffic is up over 30%.

Despite being the most famous city in Brazil, Rio De Janeiro is neither the capital (that would be Brasilia) nor the city with the busiest airports (that would be Sao Paulo). However, last week’s decision by the IOC to award the 2016 summer Olympics to Rio will only enhance its status further as the global face of the country. Traffic at its two airports of Galeao (the main international gateway) and Santos Dumont (the downtown airport) has grown steadily in the last five years from 10 million passengers in 2003 to over 14 million in 2008.

Olympics in 2016, Brazil
It just takes a little faith: Apart from the Olympics in 2016, Brazil will also be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014. As a result a number of improvements are being planned at Galeao.
Chart: Rio airport traffic between 2002 and 2008
Source: Infraero

Until last year the downtown Santos Dumont airport was restricted to serving primarily just one route, Sao Paulo Congonhas. Gol and its subsidiary Varig operated the route as did TAM and OceanAir with the four carriers providing almost 500 weekly departures between them. The airport’s runway is just 1,300 metres making longer-haul flights difficult.

Image: Brazil, Rio De Janeiro
It’s not even suburban: The current boom in new routes at Santos Dumont faces future restrictions as hourly movements will be reduced from 23 to 19 while annual passengers may be capped at five million.

However, last year permission was given for other ‘regional’ destinations to be served from downtown and as a result both Azul and Webjet are now also present at the airport and passenger numbers in 2009 are up over 30%. However, it has been reported that as a result of an environmental analysis the airport’s hourly movement limit will be reduced from 23 to 19 while the hours of permissible operation have also been curtailed with the intention of capping annual passenger numbers at around five million.

Chart: Seasonality
Source: Infraero

International network growing; US Airways coming soon

Rio’s Galeao airport was overtaken in 1985 by Sao Paulo’s main airport (Guarolhos) as the busiest in the country. Last year the airport handled 2.2 million international passengers while Guarulhos handled four times as many. According to OAG data for September the airport has direct non-stop flights to just 14 international destinations, including five in Europe and four in North America.

Region Destination (Airline)
Africa Luanda (TAAG Angola)
Europe Lisbon (TAP Portugal), London Heathrow (British Airways), Madrid (Iberia), Paris CDG (Air France, TAM), Porto (TAP Portugal)
North America Atlanta (Delta), Houston (Continental), Miami (American and TAM), New York JFK (TAM)
South America Buenos Aires (Aerolineas Argentinas, Gol-Varig, Mercosur, TAM), Lima (TACA), Montevideo (Pluna), Panama City (COPA)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 September 2009

The British Airways service used to stop in Sao Paulo until last October when flights went non-stop. TAM’s JFK service began last November while Continental’s Houston service began this August, having also previously stopped in Sao Paulo. In early December US Airways will initiate daily non-stop flights from its Charlotte hub using a 767.

In terms of total scheduled seat capacity Gol-Varig has 46% at Galeao (serving 20 domestic destinations plus Buenos Aires), while TAM has 31% (serving 16 domestic destinations plus Buenos Aires, Miami, New York JFK and Paris CDG). Webjet has a 5% share serving four domestic destinations all with at least daily flights. A total of just 18 airlines currently serve Galeao, with US Airways making it 19 later this year.

Apart from the Olympics in 2016, Brazil will also be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014. As a result a number of infrastructure improvement projects are being planned for completion before the end of 2012.


  1. Andre Soutelino says:

    Nice article!! I worked for 6 years at Galeão (GIG) and this airport has a huge potential to increase the domestic and international traffic.

    The competition with Santos Dumont (SDU) is worth for both airports. However, I understand that the competition could be improved if the Government offers a concession to GIG. Besides, the Government needs to get better the access with other modals, mainly buses and rail or even ship station.

  2. Andre Soutelino says:

    There are space for intercontinental flights at GIG. I think a daily flight from GIG to FRA will be a success. When I worked there for VARIG (S.A. Viação Aérea Riograndense) a the non stop flight to FRA had a good load factor.

Comments are closed