How GOL And Azul Are Fighting For Brazilian Regional Connectivity

Last week, GOL Linhas Aereas bought a small Brazilian regional carrier called MAP Transportes Aéreos. The acquisition of this airline served the purpose of boosting GOL’s regional connectivity throughout Brazil. Days later, Azul announced it will increase services on 50 domestic routes.

Gol Azul
Azul and GOL are in a highly contested fight for regional connectivity in Brazil. Photo: Getty Images

These two airlines are competing to connect the smaller cities in Brazil, a historically underserved market. Let’s look at their strategies and how Brazil’s new startup, Ita Transportes Aereos, could also enter the fight.

GOL’s announcement

MAP’s acquisition by GOL was a strategic move towards rational consolidation in the Brazilian aviation market, according to a statement from the airline. MAP was the fifth largest airline in Brazil last year. It carried 64,996 passengers (down from 128,975 in 2019).

In June 2019, MAP offered 144 monthly flights, as reported by Cirium’s database. It had 14 routes across Brazil, operating under a point-to-point strategy. Its largest hub was Manaus, and its most important route was Manaus-Parintins. MAP has a fleet of six ATR aircraft, models 42-200, -300, and -500, as per

MAP Linhas Aereas June 2021
This was MAP’s regional connectivity map as of January 2021. Photo: Cirium

As of 2021, Cirium shows that MAP has restored connectivity in 12 of the 13 cities it served pre-pandemic. The only one that’s missing is Trombetas. For GOL, that route map was key. Paulo Kakinoff, GOL’s CEO, said,

“This add-on acquisition is a significant step in our strategy of expanding network and capacity, as we look to revitalize air travel demand among leisure and business passengers. Thus, the Company is investing even more in the regional air transportation market with an emphasis on Brazil’s Amazon region.”

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GOL recently bought MAP Linhas Aereas. Photo: Getty Images

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Azul’s response

GOL’s acquisition of MAP is a direct message to Azul. The latter airline is the number one in Brazil in terms of destinations served. Azul flies to over 110 destinations at was the only carrier in 80% of the routes, as said by the airline during its 2021 first-quarter results.

Neither GOL nor LATAM flew to many of the cities Azul served; this has allowed Azul to have the most expensive fares across Brazil, despite the COVID-19 crisis.

Azul Map June 2021
This is Azuls domestic map route as of June 2021. Photo: Cirium

Following GOL’s announcement, Azul responded by increasing its frequencies in 50 domestic routes.

As reported by Aeroin, Azul will strengthen its frequencies from Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Salvador, and Porto Seguro. The objective is to lure back leisure travelers during Brazil’s winter season.

Plus, and this was the direct response to GOL’s announcement, Azul will launch eleven new routes from Manaus. As reported by Aviacionline, Azul will have 27 daily flights from Manaus to 23 domestic destinations. The airline will mostly use its Cessna Grand Caravan fleet, acquired last year when the company launched Azul Conecta.

Ita Transportes Aéreos
ITA is preparing to launch operations at the end of June. Photo: Ita Transportes Aéreos

A possible third player?

Historically, Brazil has been mostly underserved by airlines. Azul was the first true company to operate point-to-point connections. GOL and LATAM mostly have hub-and-spoke operations from Brazil’s biggest cities.

Besides GOL, Azul may soon face a new challenger in its route map. The startup ITA Transportes Aereos is preparing to take off at the end of June. This week, the carrier received its fourth A320 aircraft (it has big, big plans going forward).

ITA expects to connect Brazil by air the same way it does on the ground. ITA’s mother company, Itapemirim, is Brazil’s largest bus company. By June next year, the startup plans to have 35 destinations throughout the country.

As of April 2021, Azul had a 37.5% domestic market share, followed by GOL with 30% and LATAM with 27%. So maybe we are set to see a shift in Brazil in the next few months. It will be interesting to follow the regional competition in the area.

What do you think of GOL and Azul’s plans? Let us know in the comments.