Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Congonhas Airport

Congonhas/São Paulo International Airport or Congonhas Airport (IATA: CGH, ICAO: SBSP) is one of São Paulo's three commercial airports, situated 8 kilometres (5 miles) from the city downtown at Washington Luís Avenue, in Campo Belo district. It is owned by the City of São Paulo and managed by Infraero. In 2007, it was the busiest airport in Brazil in terms of aircraft movements and the second busiest in terms of passengers, handling 205,130 aircraft movements and 15,244,401 passengers.


The airport's name came from a plant that used to be common in the area where the airport was built. The airport was initially planned in 1919, but it did not open until September 12, 1936. By 1957, the airport was the third busiest in the world for cargo and freight. The passenger terminal's central hall is considered one of the most outstanding examples of modern architecture in São Paulo. However, modernizing and enlargement works conducted at the terminal from 2003 onwards, while trying to preserve the look of the older, historic section, still made the latter lose much of its former character.

Congonhas Airport is the main hub of Brazil's largest airlines: TAM Airlines (TAM Linhas Aéreas), Gol Transportes Aéreos and Varig.

Importance to the city

Congonhas was São Paulo's main airport until 1985, when São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport was built because of congestion at Congonhas and because the latter's short runways could not handle the large aircraft required for long-haul flights.

In spite of that, Congonhas Airport continues to be important to the city for regional and short-distance domestic flights. Given the concentration of Brazil's economy in the Central-Southern region, where São Paulo is located, such flights make up the greatest share of the country's domestic air traffic. Therefore, even after Guarulhos International Airport was opened, Congonhas continued to face congestion problems (and still does), regarding both the number of passengers and the number of flight operations. In spite of continuing modernization works, it is a small and outdated airport for today's standards, and its relatively short runways cannot be extended because of the sheer urban growth of São Paulo, which has completely surrounded and engulfed the airport.

Indeed, the view from the landing approach to Congonhas can be spectacular, with the airplane flying very low over massive clusters of tall skyscrapers, especially when the plane approaches from the north. It is the short distance from downtown and from the major business areas of Paulista, Faria Lima and Luís Carlos Berrini avenues that still makes Congonhas a favorite of passengers, especially business travelers, much in the same way as Ronald Reagan National Airport next to Washington, D.C. and LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Former international operations

The airport still keeps the "International" designation in its official name, and until the 1980s it did operate direct international flights to neighbouring countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, as well as intercontinental flights through connections at Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport. However, since the opening of Guarulhos Airport, international flights are no longer operated (or even allowed) at Congonhas.

With a much longer runway and better weather conditions, Viracopos International Airport was the main international airport serving São Paulo until 1985, but its very distant location in Campinas, 100 km (62 miles) from downtown São Paulo, made it very inconvenient for passengers and airlines - so much that most international passengers preferred to board instead a flight from Congonhas Airport to Rio de Janeiro-Galeão (or vice versa), connecting with their international flights there. At that time, Viracopos even appeared on the Guinness Book of Records as the farthest airport from the city it allegedly served (a dubious title that now probably rests with Gonggar Airport, which lies at about the same distance from Lhasa, Tibet).

Today, Guarulhos Airport handles all international passenger traffic to and from São Paulo, but Viracopos remains the second busiest Brazilian airport for cargo operations, both domestic and international. It also has some domestic passenger traffic, catering to the local market of the prosperous Campinas region.

Safety concerns

The airport has been troubled by slippery runways and has had several accidents where water accumulation has been a significant factor (most notably, the one involving TAM Brazilian Airlines Flight 3054 in July 2007). Although the main runway was repaved in June 2007, its new rainwater drainage grooves were only finished in September 2007. The approach path over densely populated areas causes noise and raises further safety concerns.

The largest aircraft now operating at Congonhas are the Boeing 737-800 (Gol and Varig) and the Airbus A320 (TAM). However, in the past the airport used to have operations with Boeing 767 and Airbus A300 wide-body aircraft, by the now-defunct airlines Transbrasil, VASP and Cruzeiro.

In consequence of the TAM 3054 accident, and with the subsequent public outcry for more safety, the airport has had its operations significantly altered, through the reduction of landing slots and restrictions on flight distance and connections. This has reduced the maximum allowable gross weight of landing aircraft, increasing safety margins. To compensate for the traffic, there are talks of a third commercial airport to be built in a yet-undecided location in São Paulo, but experts heard by the Brazilian press say that the actual construction of such an airport is unlikely, and that an enlargement of Guarulhos Airport, coupled with improvement in the access to that farther airport, is much more likely and feasible.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congonhas_International_Airport

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