São Paulo Guarulhos airport (IATA code: GRU) is quite possibly the plane spotter’s haven given the diversity in aircraft movements. The airport continues to attract new service from a growing list of foreign carriers from virtually every continent across the globe. The airport is slot-restricted to handle only 45 aircraft movements per hour, creating intense competition for global carriers to launch new service to GRU.
Despite this constraint, new airlines are constantly emerging on the runways at Guarulhos, and over the course of the next few months, spotters visiting GRU will see the following FOUR new entrants appear on a regularly scheduled basis:
- Etihad Airways will fly thrice weekly to to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, starting on June 1, using an Airbus A340-600 series aircraft.
- US Airways will start daily service to Charlotte, starting on June 9 on a Boeing 767-200.
- Ethiopian Airlines will launch three weekly flights to Addis Ababa (via Lomé-Tokoin airport in the west African country of Togo), starting on July 1 on a Boeing 767-300 aircraft.
- Cubana will fly weekly to Havana, starting on July 9, equipment unknown.
All of these new carriers will be flying into São Paulo for the first time. Cubana will be the sole operator on the São Paulo to Havana flight. US Airways has been flying to Brasil since 2009, launching services between Charlotte and Rio de Janeiro initially, although gaining a landing slot in São Paulo has always been a high priority item for the Tempe, AZ-based company.
Unlike its sister flight between CLT and GIG, the new flight to GRU will operate on the return-sector as a day-time flight. This is an interesting deviation from normal scheduling protocol used by airlines flying between North America and deep South America, as the majority of them operate red-eye flights in both directions. Since both continents are in similar time zones, high-yielding travelers prefer to depart late night and arrive early morning on both the outbound and inbound sectors to maximize productivity during the daytime.
The schedule for US 802/803 will be as follows:
- US 802 17:50 PM CLT 4:30 AM +1 GRU 762 D
- US 803 8:25 AM GRU 5:25 PM CLT 762 D
The route developments by Etihad and Ethiopian into São Paulo underscore the importance that African and Gulf Coast Carriers are placing on linking the booming economies of South America and Asia. Ethiopian, which recently joined Star Alliance, is hoping to capture more of the Brasil to Asia traffic over its geographically well-positioned hub at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Recently, it announced major expansion within its Asian network by adding services to Ho Chi Minh City, Manila and Seoul starting in June.
Ethiopian will be flying to São Paulo thrice weekly utilizing a Boeing 767-300ER flying Addis Ababa-Lome-Rio de Janiero-São Paulo-Lome-Addis Ababa on each frequency. Even though this may be viewed as cumbersome in terms of journey time, Ethiopian clearly does not view it as a stumbling block knowing that its Addis Ababa hub is still located ideally on the shortest route linking São Paulo/Rio and China, one of Brasil’s largest growing trade markets.
Moreover, Ethopian is eager to establish market presence in Brasil before its major rival competitor Kenya Airways secures landing authorities to launch nonstop flights between its hub in Nairobi and São Paulo. Similar to Ethiopian, Kenya Airways sees its geographic position in East Africa as a powerful advantage to compete viably against the Gulf Carriers for market share between Latin America and Asia. Kenya just recently formed a commercial strategic partnership with Etihad, which went into effect earlier this month and provides a reciprocal cod share agreement between the two carriers with access to each others’ networks.
Etihad is often categorized in context of the “big three” global Middle Eastern carriers which have emerged as airline “superpowers” over the past decade, along with Doha, Qatar-based Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline of Dubai, U.A.E. (although often times, Istanbul-based Turkish Airways is also comparatively thrown into the mix given its geographic proximity to these other Middle Eastern hubs).
Of these four aforementioned airlines, Etihad is actually the last to arrive to the South American continent. Emirates, Qatar and Turkish have established market presences in Brasil, as well as Argentina, for several years now, and have announced intentions to expand their networks to include destinations in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, among others.
While Etihad may be slightly late to the game, it has always pursued a distinct market expansion strategy by growing its network conservatively and forming partnerships and agreements, rather than expanding aggressively on its own metal and allowing markets to mature over time. The carrier has cross-border equity investments in Air Berlin, Air Seychelles, Virgin Australia and Aer Lingus, and is in the process of formulating one with Jet Airways in India, among a growing list of codeshare agreements with airlines across the globe.