Next on TAP

Avi­a­tion en­trepreneur David Neele­man talks about the investment in TAP Por­tu­gal, its growth plans and new air­craft

Business Traveler (USA) - - UPFRONT -

BT: Peo­ple rec­og­nize your name as the founder of JetBlue and the equally suc­cess­ful Azul Brazil­ian Air­lines. What’s your role with TAP Por­tu­gal?

NEELE­MAN: To­gether with an investment con­sor­tium, we bought a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in the air­line. As the cat­a­lyst be­hind its pri­va­ti­za­tion (it was pre­vi­ously a gov­ern­men­trun car­rier), it al­lows us to be­come heav­ily in­volved in its growth plan.

BT: TAP Por­tu­gal is al­ready a leader be­tween Europe and Brazil. What else is in store for the transat­lantic mar­ket? NEELE­MAN: As the launch cus­tomer for the new Air­bus A330­neo, we have big plans for grow­ing the transat­lantic mar­ket. We are re­design­ing our busi­ness class cab­ins with full-flat seat­ing and up­dat­ing econ­omy class with on-de­mand en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems to pro­vide the premier in­flight ex­pe­ri­ence. As many as six of the new A330­neo air­craft are due to us in Oc­to­ber of 2018 and will be­gin com­ing on­line fast and fu­ri­ously al­low­ing us to re­tire older air­craft and launch new routes at the same time.

BT: You are also tak­ing de­liv­ery of new nar­row-body Air­bus A321LRs. Where will that fit into the TAP net­work?

NEELE­MAN: This is re­ally ex­cit­ing be­cause it will al­low us to launch daily ser­vice to more mar­kets like Bos­ton, which are within the stan­dard range of this smaller air­craft. We also are look­ing at se­condary mar­kets like Hart­ford, Mon­treal and Prov­i­dence, which al­low us to con­nect Europe (par­tic­u­larly south­ern Europe) with the large Por­tuguese pop­u­la­tion in the north­east while also car­ry­ing Amer­i­cans in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing Europe. This air­craft will give us great flex­i­bil­ity be­cause we can fly them to north­ern cities in Brazil, too.

BT: TAP Por­tu­gal seems per­fectly po­si­tioned ge­o­graph­i­cally to con­nect Europe with the Amer­i­cas.

NEELE­MAN: Lis­bon is a great en­trance to and hub air­port for Europe al­low­ing us to con­nect pas­sen­gers be­tween Europe and Africa and the Amer­i­cas. In fact, we carry the ma­jor­ity of traf­fic from Europe to Brazil where pas­sen­gers also have con­nect­ing op­por­tu­nity with Azul’s large do­mes­tic net­work. Nearly 40 per­cent of the air­line’s rev­enue comes from this mar­ket. But we are also see­ing strong de­mand on North Amer­i­can routes (Toronto was re­cently added in June). On the Euro­pean side, we rec­og­nize that Por­tu­gal is a small coun­try, and we have to look be­yond our home mar­ket for traf­fic. The Ibe­rian penin­sula is a strong mar­ket

for us; cur­rently, we serve 11 cities in Spain and of­fer one-stop ser­vice to nearly a dozen cities in the Amer­i­cas from pop­u­lar places like Barcelona, Bil­bao, and Seville.

BT: Does TAP Por­tu­gal’s mem­ber­ship in Star Al­liance in­flu­ence where you will add flights in the fu­ture?

NEELE­MAN: Yes, we are look­ing at mar­kets like Chicago and San Fran­cisco, both of which are United hubs with strong con­nec­tiv­ity. This helps us to sup­port non­stop ser­vice to Lis­bon. But the A321LRs will al­low us to go into se­condary mar­kets with­out much con­nect­ing feed, which is also ex­cit­ing.

BT: TAP was a pi­o­neer in its on­line bid­ding sys­tem for busi­ness class up­grades. How does this work?

NEELE­MAN: We never like to see our seats go out empty on an air­plane, and this of­fer is in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar. Peo­ple make a bid (with a set min­i­mum amount al­ready in place), and any un­sold seats are awarded to the high­est qual­i­fy­ing bid­der at the time of de­par­ture. Of course, we would like to re­ceive full fares on ev­ery seat, but like most air­lines, that’s not al­ways pos­si­ble. This al­lows us to strike a nice bal­ance while max­i­miz­ing po­ten­tial rev­enue. It is also a great way for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the pre­mium cabin for a solid dis­count.

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