MIAMI – TAP Portugal has recently been celebrating its illustrious history, unveiling A330-300 CS-TOV, which is painted in the airline’s historic colors. TAP staff told Airways that the concept of a “retro” plane has been discussed for many years but “it was only possible to achieve it now.”
During a recent flight on this aircraft, it was obvious that TAP staff paid significant attention to getting the historical details right. Everything involving the aircraft paint scheme, safety video, crew uniforms and the promotional items distributed on the flight, were the result of detailed research.
The 72-year history of this carrier goes back to 1945, when Transportes Aereos Portugueses (TAP) was formed on March 14 as a division of Secção de Transportes Aéreos (Section of Air Transport) under Humberto Delgado, the Director of the Civil Aviation Office of Portugal at the time (who would later earn the nickname ‘Fearless General’ for his defiance of dictator Antonio Salazar). Its first aircraft were two Dakota DC3s, with room for 21 passengers.
After a few trial flights from Lisboa to Porto and the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, TAP started flying its first two regular routes in 1946: Lisboa-Madrid, on September 19 and the Linha Aérea Imperial flights to Africa on December 31.
The purpose of the Africa flights was to connect Lisboa with its colonies Angola and Mozambique. The flights to Luanda and Lourenço Marques (today’s Maputo), a return journey of 15,248 miles/24,540 kilometers that took a total of 15 days and included 12 stopovers.
Aircraft routed Lisboa-Casablanca (overnight)-Villa Cisneros-Dakar (overnight)-Robertsfield-Accra (overnight)-Libreville-Luanda (Sunday layover)-Leopoldville-Luluabourg-Elisabethville (overnight)-Salsbury-Lourenco Marques, then laid over for a couple of days before returning the same way.
In 1947, TAP added DC-4s (converted C-54s) to the fleet and added other routes including Paris and Seville in 1948 and London in 1949. Three Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellations arrived in 1955 for use on TAP’s long-distance routes and began flying to Africa in November.
In the mid-1950s, the airline introduced its classic image, with “Transportes Aéreos Portugueses” titles and the distinctive “Passarola,” the iconic bird symbol logo.
During the late 1950s, TAP flights operated with DC-3s, DC-4s, and Constellations. Later, in the 1960s, TAP operated Voo da amizades (Friendship Flights) in conjunction with Panair do Brasil and Varig between São Paulo-Congonhas, Rio de Janeiro-Galeão, and Lisbon, with stops in Recife and Sal.
This service started using a Panair DC-7C aircraft bearing the names and crew of both airlines, later transitioning to TAP Connies and Varig Electras. These flights were restricted to Brazilian and Portuguese citizens or resident foreigners and were extremely popular due to their low fares.
TAP entered the jet age in the 1960s, acquiring three Sud Aviation Caravela VI-Rs in 1962. By 1963 these were flying from Lisboa to Las Palmas, Santa Maria, London, Geneva, Munich, and Frankfurt.
Shortly thereafter, TAP acquired Boeing 707s in 1965 and Boeing 727-100s in 1967, the year the company became “all jet.” The airline was operating across the Atlantic in 1966; serving Rio de Janiero in conjunction with Varig. New York-JFK service, originally operated by Alitalia DC-8s with TAP flight numbers, was served by TAP’s 707s by 1968.
Four Boeing 747 “Navigator” widebodies entered the TAP fleet starting in 1972: CS-TJA through -TJD. The 747s came with a slightly modified version of the paint scheme, with a wider “cheatline” passing through, not below, the windows.
By the end of 1974, TAP had carried more than 1.5 million passengers, flown 68,210 hours over a network of almost 103,000 kilometers, and had a staff of over 9,000 people. After Angola and Mozambique gained independence, two of the Boeing 747s were sold.
In 1980, the company introduced a new look as it implemented a modernization program that resulted with it being renamed “TAP Air Portugal.” After it operated L1011s and 737s starting in the 1980s, the airline turned to Airbus products in the 1990s.
Airbus A310s and A340s operated long-haul routes while A320-family aircraft gradually replaced the Boeing 737s. By 2005, when the current “TAP Portugal” branding was adopted, the fleet was all-Airbus.
In 2015, TAP was partially privatized and is now 50% owned by the Portuguese government, 45% owned by the Atlantic Gateway Group, headed by JetBlue and Azul founder David Neeleman, and 5% owned by employees.
Two years later, the airline decided to commemorate the classic “Passarola” era by unveiling an Airbus A330 painted in the historic paint scheme, staffed by flight crew wearing period uniforms serving food that reflects “the best culinary challenges of the time.”
TAP used extensive resources to draw upon to recreate its classic history. The Museu do Ar, located at Granja do Marquês, Sintra, is a three-way partnership between TAP Portugal, airport operator Ana-Aeroportos, and the Portuguese Air Force.
This museum has an extensive collection of memorabilia, including nose sections and engines from Lockheed Constellation and Boeing 707 aircraft, as well as classic uniforms, dining service items and vintage “flight bags,” all of which made an appearance on special “retro” themed flights conducted during Summer 2017.
In addition, the airline maintains a “Documentation Section” and archives at the TAP’s headquarters adjacent to Lisbon Airport. This contains material such as flight logs, photographs, manuals and advertising material.
TAP even went through its museum to find some original menus of the time, where one could find shrimp salad, pheasant terrine, Cod a la Zé do pipo, sirloin à portuguesa, and a banana parfait with chocolate for dessert
The result was TAP’s unveiling of CS-TOV on June 26, 2017, followed by special “retro”-themed flights to from Portugal to destinations including Toronto, Miami, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Concurrently, TAP is simultaneously promoting its improved product, including the expanded “Stopover Program” which allows passengers traveling beyond Lisboa or Porto to arrange visits to those cities of up to five days for no additional fare.
The most visible part of this promotion took place in Summer 2017, when the airline unveiled a specially painted A330-300, CS-TOW, painted to promote the Stopover Program. It now includes several Portuguese areas as destinations, which also qualify for the stopover, including the Algarve, Madeira and the Azores.
The airline is also improving the onboard dining experience with the “Taste the Stars” program, which features a meal from one of the five Michelin star chefs who has accepted the challenge to promote the best of Portuguese cuisine.
Additionally, the Michelin chefs’ restaurants will also now be part of the “Portugal Stopover” program. Finally, TAP is a member of the Star Alliance, the world’s leading group of airlines, with the largest number of member airlines offering daily flights to a worldwide network of destinations and countries.
As TAP celebrates its proud history, its improved product ensures that it will continue to appeal to travelers to Portugal by offering a competitive product.
Editor’s note: The author acknowledges the assistance of Gareth Edmondson-Jones and the TAP Portugal PR staff, as well as SFO Museum staff in preparing this article.