Brazil eyes opening skies over World Cup to foreign airlines

Tue Oct 22, 2013 3:08pm EDT
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By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil will decide in December whether to open its skies to foreign airlines during the World Cup, the head of the Brazilian tourism agency Embratur said on Tuesday.

Embratur's Flavio Dino acknowledged Brazil's domestic carriers may not have the capacity to meet demand during the monthlong competition and said companies that currently operate international flights to and from Brazil could be invited to take up the slack.

"We have the view that it is important to ensure more flights," Dino said. "We are replanning our air network. We may open the market to companies that just deal internationally."

With eight months to go before the tournament, soaring ticket prices have stirred popular outrage, highlighting a legacy of barriers to foreign airlines. Of the more than 100 nations that signed an open skies agreement with the United States, Brazil is one of a handful that have not put it into practice.

The decision about opening domestic routes would come after a World Cup draw in Bahia on December 6, Dino said. Only then will authorities know which teams are playing in which cities in order to predict the movement of fans.

Although the government has opened several major airports to private investment in an attempt to relieve bottlenecks before the World Cup, progress has been slow. Brazil's expanding middle class also means the number of air travelers has grown by about 10 percent per year since the middle of the last decade, according to Brazil's civil aviation authority Anac.

Brazil's two main airlines, Gol Linhas Aereas and Latam Airlines Group's TAM, have also been laying off pilots and slashing routes to restore profitability, raising concerns they will be unprepared for the onslaught next year.

An estimated 600,000 foreigners and 3 million Brazilians will be traveling around the country during the World Cup next June and July.   Continued...

People are silhouetted in front of an advertisement of the Brazil 2014 FIFA Soccer World Cup as they wait for a bus in Recife June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci