Millions of soccer fans are preparing for travel around Brazil next June for the World Cup, and the two agencies overseeing their transport can’t agree on the best way to do it.
The Civil Aviation Secretariat, known as SAC, wants to rely on domestic operators for flights as far as 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) during the month-long competition. The state tourism agency, Embratur, reiterated last week that the nation may need to allow foreign airlines to handle its busiest-ever air traffic to the 12 cities hosting the matches.
“This hypothesis is impossible,” Wellington Moreira Franco, secretary of civil aviation, said about using foreign carriers. “Don’t even think about it. There’s no chance of doing this craziness that would only complicate things.”
Fans will find out in tomorrow’s draw where their teams will play and whom they’ll face in the opening round. Brazilian airlines will have 15 days to publish the new national flight grid that will shuttle an estimated 600,000 international visitors and 3 million Brazilians between venues.
In 1950, the other time Brazil hosted the tournament, most matches were in the south of the country, and teams traveled to the country by ship.
After the draw, which includes 19 of the world’s top 20 ranked teams, fans will have to rush to book flights. Some, such as the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) trip between the Amazonian city of Manaus and Porto Alegre in the southeast, can take as long as 10 hours with connections.
The biggest concern for airlines is the flexibility necessary to reroute flights and fans who will be buying tickets at the last minute for knockout games, according to Edmar Lopes Neto, CFO of Gol, the country’s second-biggest airline. Neto said his company’s ability to deliver the flights necessary depends on hotel space, local governments and the federal agencies responsible for aviation.
“Because there is a lack of infrastructure, we do deal with some bottlenecks, and we have to be very flexible and fast,” Neto said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Sao Paulo office on Nov. 21. “They’ll get it done the Brazilian way.”
Organizers have sold just over 1 million of the 3.3 million match tickets available. The next sales phase begins on Dec. 8, two days after the draw in the resort of Costa da Sauipe, Bahia. The government has set up a commission to monitor hotels and airlines after an investigation found some hotels were looking to charge six times their usual rates during the World Cup. A return flight between Rio and Sao Paulo can cost as much as $800.
A Brazilian airline lobby group, known as ABEAR, said World Cup travel will be like a scaled-up version of peak travel times such as the end-of-year holidays and Carnaval, which usually falls in February or March. Normal plans for busy months include adding extra flights to popular routes and increasing the number of maintenance workers, flight crews and call center attendants, according to a report on the union’s website.
Still, for many cities the tournament will lead to the biggest traveler influx in history. The wetlands city of Cuiaba received fewer than 240,000 passengers in June 2013. That city’s stadium seats 42,968 people and will host four group-stage games over 11 days.
In addition to millions of fans, about 15,000 journalists, team staff and FIFA personnel will be traveling between games. Figures from South Africa, the 2010 host, highlight the strain the World Cup can have on airport infrastructure. Airports in the country’s three biggest cities, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, handled 2.9 million visitors in June and July 2010, up from 1.2 million the year before, according to Unathi Batyashe-Fillis, a spokesperson for Airports Company South Africa, the group responsible for the facilities.
Hundreds of fans missed the semifinal between Spain and Germany when flights into Durban’s airport were delayed after an increase in private jets took up all the landing slots.
FIFA didn’t compensate fans for the tickets, saying it wasn’t the organization’s responsibility. At least 1,800 seats went unfilled for the July 7 game.
Three of Brazil’s busiest airports were privatized in February 2012, and the operating rights of two others -- World Cup host cities Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte -- were sold in a Nov. 22 auction. Winning groups enter in a partnership with Infraero, which maintains a 49 percent stake in each airport.
Improvements to the majority of airports that will handle World Cup traffic remain uncompleted. Infraero President Gustavo do Vale said Nov. 26 that the 61 airports still fully controlled by the state-owned company are 70 percent operationally ready for the tournament.
A third terminal at Sao Paulo’s Garulhos airport is scheduled to open May 11, just a month before South America’s biggest city hosts the tournament’s first match featuring Brazil. Work there was 80 percent complete at the end of November, according to Antonio Miguel Marques, president of GRU Airport, the group now operating Brazil’s busiest airport. Improvements at the Rio and Belo Horizonte terminals won’t be complete by the time the World Cup kicks off.