Viracopos-Campinas International airport has long been a distant third in the Sao Paulo area to the bustling passenger hubs at Guarulhos International and Congonhas.
It lacked all commercial service for at least a decade after Guarulhos opened in 1985 and only emerged as a secondary hub to the metropolitan area of roughly 19 million people, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics estimates, with the launch of Azul in 2008.
Viracopos is now the 6th busiest airport in Brazil with 9.3 million passengers in 2013, and is on-track to handle more than 10 million this year, the operator Aeroportos Brasil Viracopos estimates. These are almost all domestic passengers as the airport only had one regularly scheduled international route, a flight to Lisbon three-times per week on TAP Portugal, until this July.
Now, with a new terminal and international facilities due to open in October, foreign and domestic carriers are lining up to launch international flights from Viracopos.
American Airlines, Azul and Copa Airlines all plan to launch new international services before the end of the year and Gol began one-stop service to Miami International airport via Santo Domingo on 19 July.
“The announcement of the new international flights from the Viracopos airport will provide more mobility, comfort and convenience to our passengers,” said Aluízio Margarido, commercial director of Aeroportos Brasil Viracopos, in a recent statement. “Our goal is to make the flying experience increasingly better for Viracopos.”
American will begin daily nonstop service to Miami on 2 December and three-times weekly service to New York JFK International on 1 December with both services operated by 209-seat Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, Azul plans to add daily nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in December and to New York JFK in early 2015 on 246-seat Airbus A330-200s, and Copa Airlines will launch daily nonstop service to Panama City, Panama, on an up to 160-seat Boeing 737 in December.
Gol operates three-times weekly to Miami on a 183-seat 737-800.
With the additions, Viracopos will see its weekly international seat capacity jump nearly 14-fold to as much 9,615 seats once Azul launches all of its planned international services in early 2015, based on a Flightglobal analysis. This represents a huge vote of confidence in an airport that has been almost exclusively a domestic facility previously.
“The countryside of Sao Paulo state is a very rich [and] almost all of the passengers must pass our door to go to Guarulhos,” says Margarido in an interview with Flightglobal. He says that there are many factories and businesses, including in the automotive, finance and technology industries, near Viracopos and that they estimate some 32 million people live in the airport’s catchment area.
He adds that there is also a significant opportunity for belly cargo on international flights from Viracopos.
“Airlines recognise that Viracopos has a very large and very affluent catchment area,” says Carlos Ozores, a principal at the aviation advisory firm ICF International. “This catchment area has become completely distinct from Sao Paulo for domestic traffic. For international traffic, passengers have had to travel [at least] 1.5h to Guarulhos, but if they have convenient air service directly to Viracopos, they’ll obviously prefer it.”
Viracopos is about 90km drive from central Sao Paulo and about 110km from Guarulhos airport, according to Google Maps.
American seconds Ozores’ opinion, saying the airport is a more convenient option than Guarulhos for customers in the interior of Sao Paulo state.
“The addition of Campinas demonstrates our mission to provide customers with expanded options through a growing network footprint in Brazil,” says the Fort Worth, Texas-based Oneworld alliance carrier. It will serve 10 airports in Brazil with the new service.
Viracopos is working to open its new terminal by the end of October. The airport will have four contact gates capable of handling up to eight international flights at a time depending on aircraft size and 20 domestic contact gates when all of the work is done in December, says Margarido.
Pier A (right) will handle international flights and pier C (left) will handle domestic traffic from October, the operator says. Pier B (centre) will handle both domestic and international flights but will open gradually as demand increases.
The facility has an annual capacity for 22 million passengers – more than double the current traffic levels – when it is fully operational.
“We really would like to be a hub for Sao Paulo state,” says Margarido. “Guarulhos, the international airport for Sao Paulo, is very saturated. We have a demand for more flights.”
Viracopos has ample room to add more international flights, even with all of the new services that have been announced, he says.
The airport is working to land additional nonstop flights to Europe and elsewhere in Latin America, says Margarido.
Viracopos is prepared to pay penalties for the delays to the new terminal, which was scheduled to open on 11 May. Brazilian regulator ANAC announced in July that the operator has 20 days to submit a report on the delay before it decides on an appropriate penalty.
Margarido hopes that they will only be penalised for the work that is not completed, for example if they had 96% of the work done the penalty would only be for the 4% that was not complete, he says.
Viracopos could be liable for up to R170 million ($75.2 million) in fines for construction work delays plus up to R1.7 million per day that the new facility is not open. Local observers do not expect that the operator will have to pay the maximum fine.
Egis, Triunfo Participacoes and UTC Participacoes own Aeroports Brasil Viracopos, which holds the 30-year concession of the airport.