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TAP Air Portugal's Carlos Paneiro talks:
Over the past few years, TAP Air Portugal has doubled its traffic to North America, driven in part by new U.S. gateway airports and codesharing with JetBlue. The carrier aims for similar growth over the next three to five years, with a large fleet order underway and more U.S. gateway cities forthcoming. Carlos Paneiro, VP of sales for North and Central America, talked recently with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about those plans and how the carrier is using that growth to leverage more corporate business.
BTN: What are TAP's fleet plans?
Paneiro: We are leading very exciting times in our company right now. [JetBlue founder] David Neeleman took a share in our company in 2015, actually, and since that, the company is completely different. David Neeleman placed an order of 71 new aircraft, and we are replacing a lot of planes. By 2020, all our long-haul routes will be a new aircraft or a reconfigured one: fully flat [seats] in business class, slimline seats in economy. [We have] a Michelin-star chef rebuilding our cuisine in business class and a new lounge in Lisbon, so a lot of investment going on. We also launched our stopover program, which allows our customers to stop over in Portugal for up to five days with no additional airfare, which means a passenger who is going to Rome, even for work, can stay in Portugal up to five days on leisure. Our stopover program has been a success. We've had more than 100,000 passengers who have used it.
BTN: Where has TAP been growing its network?
Paneiro: Lisbon, our geographical position, is an asset to us because it's the closest European mainland point from the East Coast, which means in a six-hour flight you can reach New York. We have been launching several routes. Recently we launched Florence, in Italy. We are flying from more than 65 destinations in Europe and Africa, so our network is good. We have been flying to New York for 50 years. Two years ago, we added [daily service in] Boston and JFK to Miami and to Newark as our gateways in North America. The plan is to keep growing in North America. In upcoming months, we will announce new gateways in North America. And we are doing very well not only in the U.S. but in Brazil, as well. TAP is the No. 1 airline flying Europe to Brazil. Right now, we are flying more than 80 frequencies per week to more than 10 different markets. To Sao Paolo, we are flying three flights per day.
With the new product, the arguments to reach out to the corporate business will be different, but the segment is also … noticing that TAP is a very good option to fly to Europe."
BTN: Has this growth given you leverage to add more corporate accounts?
Paneiro: Corporate is very important segment for us. We are a member of Star Alliance, and we have global corporate agreements in the Star Alliance. Of course, we have local agreements for just TAP with smaller companies. We have a corporate program for small and medium companies where they can get points and can redeem and buy tickets and upgrades and so on. With the new product, the arguments to reach out to the corporate business will be different, but the segment is also discovering TAP. They are noticing that TAP is a very good option to fly to Europe, mainly to the southern region of Europe, where our location in Lisbon is close by. When you compare with the number of daily flights to London out of the U.S., it's massive, but outside that, we are doing [something] similar to Icelandair connecting Reykjavik to the north of Europe with their stopover program; we are doing [something] quite similar to Southern Europe.
BTN: You mentioned your strength in Africa. What role has that played in corporate business growth?
Paneiro: Morocco is a very interesting market to the U.S., so we are flying both to Casablanca and Marrakesh. But, we are mainly concentrated in the west coast of Africa. We are flying to Dakar, [Senegal]; Cape Verde; Sao Tome; Lome, [Togo]; and so on. We are launching Angola, a very important market to us. In [the capital], Luanda, the corporate segment is important because there is traffic out of Houston to Luanda and they are connecting in Lisbon. We have a very nice agreement with Chevron: a corporate agreement to use our flights.
BTN: We've been seeing a lot of deepening relationships between carriers on transatlantic routes and around the world. Could a joint venture or such be in TAP's future?
Paneiro: We'll see. [As] we become a stronger player in the U.S., we get more arguments in order to build. We also have a partnership with JetBlue, which is very important. Within this cooperation with JetBlue, we connect with Boston and JFK and are doing very well there, mainly with Boston, where they connect very well with our flights. About 20 percent of the passengers we get out of Boston are connecting passengers; they start flying in San Francisco and San Diego, connect in Boston and go to Europe with TAP, so we are a good partner to JetBlue.
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