SAN FRANCISCO — On June 10th, 2019, Portuguese people in the San Francisco Bay Area had two reasons to celebrate. Not only because it was Portugal Day—the country’s national day—TAP Air Portugal also inaugurated service between San Francisco International (SFO) and Lisbon.
TAP is now the only airline that provides year-round service between the U.S. west coast and Portugal with nonstop flights to Lisbon.
Across the Bay in Oakland (OAK), SATA Azores Airlines flies seasonally during the summer months to Terceira (TER) in the Azores, which provides connectivity to mainland Portugal.
At the launch in SFO, Miguel Frasquilho, Chairman of TAP Group remarked, “direct flight between San Francisco and Lisbon makes a lot of sense – I would say it is a perfect match.”
Not only because of the large Portuguese community in the San Francisco Bay Area, but both regions are also known as high-tech centers, with Lisbon home to the Web Summit, the world’s largest technology conference.
In addition, there are many similarities between California and Portugal such as history, geography, climate, and architecture.
Since becoming privatized in 2015, TAP has grown steadily, increasing its presence in the North American market. Before then, TAP only served three destinations in the US and Canada.
Today, SFO became the airline’s eighth North American destination, joining Chicago and Washington-Dulles, both also added in June, New York-JFK, Newark, Boston, Miami, and Toronto, Canada. Frequency to existing destinations has also increased.
Chairman Frasquilho credited that growth to David Neeleman, who allowed TAP to “(expand) our operations in North America…much, much easier.”
Neeleman, who founded Morris Air, JetBlue, and Azul, is a major shareholder of TAP Group through Atlantic Gateway, a consortium of investors that owns 45% of the group acquired during privatization.
TAP aggressively implemented a fleet renewal plan after privatization. In 2015, the airline ordered 53 new airplanes from Airbus: 14 A330-900neos and 39 A320neos, comprised of 15 A320neos and 24 A321neos. TAP already had a 43-strong Airbus fleet and moving to modern versions with New Engine Option (neo) made sense.
The A330neo is powered exclusively by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, an evolution of the Trent 700 that powers the A330 blended with technology from the Trent XWB for the A350. The A330neo also features an increased wingspan finished with a distinctive composite wingtip Sharklets inspired by the A350.
Onboard, passengers will find Airbus’ new Airspace cabin. TAP configured their A330-900neo with 298-seats: 34 lie-flat Business Class seats, 96 EconomyXtra seats (34-inch pitch), and 168 Economy Class seats (31-inch pitch).
TAP was the launch operator of the A330neo program. The first A330-900neo production type undertook route proving flights in TAP’s colors in July 2018. The inaugural flight for the wide-bodied NEO came on December 15, 2018, from Lisbon to São Paulo. By the end of 2019, the airline expects to have 19 A330neos in operation (additional aircraft were leased after the initial acquisition).
In fact, in 2019, TAP will indoctrinate 30 new aircraft into service, making the largest new aircraft phase-in in the airline’s history. Included in that mix is the new Airbus A321LR, part of the A320neo family.
TAP is the first airline in the world to operate both the A330neo and the A321LR. According to Airbus, combining these two types will allow the airline to leverage both medium and long haul market demands by having common aircraft operations.
Further, these new types offer increased fuel efficiency with 20% reduction in fuel burn per seat over current generation aircraft on the A321LR and 25% reduction on the A330neo. Passengers will benefit by having a harmonized cabin offering a consistent experience between both aircraft types.
Neeleman remarked, “it was a huge effort to privatize the airline. What I discovered during privatization was that we had passionate people. They loved the company, but they didn’t have brand new beautiful airplanes like what we have today,” enabling the airline to expand.
Multi-time airline CEO David Neeleman admitted, “I was born in Brazil, I speak Portuguese, but prior to privatization, I have never been to Portugal.” Now that Portugal is a popular destination, people have heard about it and want to go there. The key according to Neeleman, is access, “you have to have convenient access and now we have it.”
To attract “Beyond Lisbon” passengers, TAP offers a Portugal Stopover program. Travelers to Europe, Africa, and elsewhere in Portugal can enjoy up to five nights stay in Lisbon or Porto without extra airfare.
The program includes a network of 150 partners who offer benefits such as hotel discounts, free museum entries and experiences, and free wine at participating restaurants.