Having averaged traffic growth of about 30 percent each year over the first six years of its existence, Avianca Brasil expects to end 2017 – its seventh year of operations – by posting a growth rate of approximately 25 per cent for the 12 months.
Interviewed in New York following the December 15 launch of the airline’s new daily non-stop service between São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport and New York JFK, Avianca Brasil’s CEO Frederico Pedreira reveals that the carrier’s new international route network has contributed about 8 per cent of its revenue passenger kilometer (RPK) traffic growth in 2017.
The remaining 16 to 17 per cent has come from continuing growth on Avianca’s Brasil’s domestic route network in Brazil, which links 23 Brazilian cities. Avianca Brasil has remained the fastest-growing airline in Brazil since it began operating commercial services nearly seven years ago, according to Pedreira.
During 2017 Avianca Brasil launched international service to four destinations outside Brazil: Colombia’s capital Bogota, which it serves from the Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre, Recife and Salvador; Chile’s capital Santiago; Miami; and New York. It serves each of the latter three cities from São Paulo Guarulhos.
Avianca Brasil operates Airbus A320-family jets on its flights to and from Bogota and now offers two daily round-trips between São Paulo Guarulhos and Santiago, one operated by an A320 and one by an A330-200 widebody, according to Pedreira. Avianca Brasil began serving Santiago on August 8, after launching daily service on 23 June to Miami International Airport from São Paulo with A330-200s.
The airline hadn’t originally planned to start serving New York as early as this year, but higher-than-expected passenger load factors on its new Miami and Santiago services decided Avianca Brasil “to kick off New York this year”, according to Pedreira. “We initiated the New York flight sales in September and the demand for this product has proved to be extremely positive, reaching occupancy rates above the expected level,” he adds.
Until this year Avianca Brasil was “very focused” on building its Brazilian domestic network, says Pedreira, adding that the airline has been able to post very strong annual passenger-traffic growth rates over the past six years despite a “huge domestic crisis” in the Brazilian economy because it has been “very customer-focused” and passengers have responded accordingly. Avianca Brasil has been the fastest-growing airline in Brazil over the past seven years, according to Pedreira.
The carrier has been careful to maintain a strong customer-service focus in launching its new international network, Pedreira says. In addition to outfitting each of its four A330-200 passenger jets with 32 Business Class seats, each being fully lie-flat and arrayed in 1-2-1 row configuration so that every Business Class passenger has direct aisle access, Avianca Brasil has provided each A330 with just 206 Economy Class seats, in 2-4-2 row configuration. As a result no Economy passenger on any of its A330-200s is more than one seat away from an aisle.
Each A330-200 Economy seat has a nine-inch touchscreen seatback in-flight entertainment display, complete with remote control. Each Economy seat also is fitted with power outlets, a USB port and an adjustable headrest and footrest. Every one of Avianca Brasil’s passenger-configured A330s – at present it has four, two owned and two leased, but it also operates an A330-200F freighter – also has LED ambient lighting installed throughout the aircraft.
Additionally, in launching service to New York, Avianca Brasil has launched a new in-flight food partnership for its Business Class cabins with Thomas Troisgros, executive chef of the Michelin-starred Olympe restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.
The partnership has seen Troisgros design new menus for Avianca Brasil’s Business Class cabins on all of its international flights, but it came about because Avianca Brasil realized from the outset that it needed to do something special for Business Class travelers on its São Paulo-New York service. “We have very demanding customers to New York, more than to Miami, so we decided to come up with something different with Thomas,” says Pedreira.
Because Brazil is only “slowly coming out of the downturn”, Avianca Brasil isn’t certain how much traffic growth it will experience in its domestic network in 2018.
However, after its international network’s strong start, Pedreira expects traffic on Avianca Brasil’s international network to continue growing strongly throughout the year. “We expect, next year, international operations to represent slightly lower than 20 per cent of our total operating RPKs,” he says.
Not including the launch of its new operation Avianca Argentina, which plans to begin Buenos Aires- São Paulo Guarulhos service with A320-family jets in the spring, Avianca Brasil hopes to begin service to at least one additional international destination in 2018, according to Pedreira.
However, in general, “We’re more about quality than quantity and we’ll always choose adding one more [service] frequency to existing destinations than opening new routes,” says Pedreira. “Over 90 per cent of our growth in the past five years was in our current network. We prefer to scale up before adding new destinations.”
Owned outright by Synergy Group, which also holds a 52 per cent economic stake and a 70 per cent voting stake in Avianca, Latin America’s second-largest airline group, Avianca Brasil now operates 11 A318s, four A319s, 28 A320s, eight A320neos (all leased), four A330-200s and an A330-200F.
Like Avianca a member of the Star Alliance, Avianca Brasil is due to receive four more A320neos – ordered direct from Airbus – by March and has 58 more on order from the manufacturer, as well as 10 A350-900 widebodies slated for delivery from 2020. It may also add more A330-200s before deliveries of its A350-900s begin, according to Pedreira.
With a fleet looking set to reach and perhaps exceed 100 aircraft by the early 2020s, Avianca Brasil’s focus on customer service and cautious network growth looks to remain a reliable formula for the carrier.