Destination Lisbon (II): TAP's new era
In addition to experiencing the last Fokker 100 flight of TAP's subsidiary Portugalia, my recent trip to Lisbon was also an excellent opportunity to get to know a bit more about the shake-up the Portuguese flag carrier is going through.
The arrival of an investor's consortium, led by aviation entrepreneur David Neeleman, has injected not only fresh capital in the airline, but a new management team and a whole set of new projects, ideas and initiatives.
The first one is, perhaps, the added emphasis in Lisbon as a gateway to Europe.
If you look at the map you will see how this makes sense geographically, with Lisbon being the most Westerly major city on the European mainland, literally staring to North America across the Ocean.
This means any connections between North or South America (Brazil is a particularly big market for TAP) and further points in Europe face no backtracking at all.
But, in addition to making a great connection node, Lisbon and Portugal have also a charm of their own. TAP's renewed efforts to position Lisbon as a trans-oceanic hub have coincided with a deliberate effort on the side of the Portuguese government to position Portugal as a cool tourist destination.
This may seem obvious to anyone familiar with Lisbon and its many attractions, but, in fact, the Portuguese capital had had a somehow low profile in the European tourist map (most likely due, precisely because of its peripheral location within the continent).
The flagship of this approach is the Portugal Stopover programme.
In some ways, Portugal Stopover, is reminiscent of a similar scheme operated (and refined!) by Icelandair, another "peripheral" European airline that has made of geography, virtue.
TAP trans-atlantic passengers are actively encouraged, through a programme of advantageous offerings, to spend a few days in Portugal between flights.
In order to fulfill this transatlantic connector role, TAP has committed itself to quite a significant fleet renewal and expansion plan. 14 A330s and 39 A320s are already on order.
Although TAP is a member of Star Alliance, the arrival of David Neeleman's team has opened up new perspectives and opportunities when it comes to partnerships.
This concerns not only Azul, Mr.Neeleman's current project in Brazil, with which TAP has started cooperating on a number of routes between Europe and Brazil, making the most of each other networks and strenghts in both Brazil and Europe. JetBlue is also a close partner of TAP in its aim of making more North American travelers transit through Lisbon.
TAP had traditionally had Newark as its US gateway, but since it established its partnership with JetBlue, it has also started flying to JFK T5, where it can connect with JetBlue's own network, and viceversa. Being present at T5 from the hand of JetBlue has also allowed TAP to raise its public profile amond American travelers and market directly services such as the aforementioned Portugal Stopover.
In the meantime, TAP has added some new routes, such as Boston (just six hours flight away form Lisbon), Toronto and a handful of new European destinations. All while holding its grip on the Brazilian market and links to Portuguese speaking Africa.
Mix all these elements together and you have quite an interesting project here, still flying below the radar, but possibly not for long. If David Neeleman's success track record is of any guide, TAP will be an airline to keep an eye on in years to come!