Over the first six months of 2019, Portuguese flag carrier TAP Air carried almost eight million passengers, 4.8% higher than the year before. Growth was recorded in all network sectors apart from Central and South Atlantic, with particular success noted in North America.
The carrier notes that some of its newest routes were launched partway through the first half of the year, so their effects on traffic growth have only been moderately felt by this point. They also note the launch of three new routes in September – Porto to Munich and Lyon, and Lisbon to Banjul – saying that with the help of these, 2019 will be a record-breaking year for the airline.
Growth in all network sectors
According to the company’s statement, TAP Portugal has seen passenger increases in all of its network sectors, excluding South and Central Atlantic. In particular, it highlights success in the North American market, where 428,000 passengers were transported, a growth of 9.6% over the previous year. Africa too has proven successful for TAP, where passenger traffic grew 8.5% to 586,000 passengers.
For short-haul, the performance has been solid too. Excluding domestic routes, TAP saw growth of 4.9%, moving 227,000 more than the same period last year. In total, 4.8 million passengers traveled around Europe using TAP Air.
Domestically, and we use that term loosely, the market has been slower. Mainland domestic (flights between Lisbon, Porto and Faro) only grew by 1.8%. However, this was bolstered by ‘domestic’ flights to the autonomous regions of Portugal, including to Madeira and the Azores, which grew 4.9%.
TAP Air’s strategy of supplying an hourly shuttle between Lisbon and Porto has paid off too. Called the ‘Ponte Aerea’, this route is operated by White Airways on behalf of Tap Express and has grown 5.8% in the first half of 2019 to 400,000 passengers.
The only region served by TAP which failed to show growth was Brazil. Over the whole of the first half of 2019, TAP Air carried 2% fewer passengers than the equivalent period last year. However, the carrier notes that more recently things have been picking up, citing a 3.4% growth in June as a signal of recovery.
Teaching an old dog new tricks
Despite being a 74-year-old airline, the world has never taken much notice of TAP Portugal; at least not until JetBlue founder David Neeleman got involved. Prior to Neeleman’s involvement, TAP had a modest fleet of 75 aircraft, most of which were pretty old, and lacked any direction or strategy. At one point the airline was in around $667m of debt.
But, in true Neeleman style, the Brazilian-American entrepreneur stepped in and breathed new life into the airline. Within months of taking control of the company in 2015, Neeleman’s Atlantic Gateway Consortium put in an order for 53 brand new planes for TAP, 14 of which were to be the new A330-900neo. In fact, TAP would be the launch customer for the type.
Fast forward three years and in 2018, TAP’s growth was pegged at 10% for the year, making it the fastest-growing airline in the world. It looks, from the first half results, as if 2019 is heading in the same direction.
However, despite clear growth in 2018, the airline posted an overall loss of €118m ($130m) last year, a loss that was attributed to ‘essential initiatives’ for the turnaround program at the company. Rising fuel prices and devaluation of the Brazilian exchange rate served to further pinch the profits.
The Portugal News reports that TAP is confident that 2019 will be a return to profitability for the company. Neeleman remains focused on turning Lisbon into a hot tourist destination for North Americans, and a hub for transatlantic travelers wanting to explore further into Europe. It will be interesting to see what the full year’s financials bring for the airline.