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GRU International Airport – Sao Paulo’s global gateway

There are few places in the world capable of making the likes of London and New York feel positively provincial, but, as anybody who has visited or lived in the city will agree, Sao Paulo is undoubtedly one of them.

It would be difficult to find a greater contrast than that between Sao Paulo and its more flamboyant neighbour, the samba city of Rio de Janeiro – a destination that somehow manages to be chaotic and serene all at the same time. Where Rio is chic and sexy, Sao Paulo is a juggernaut – an enormous, almost intimidating metropolis that isn’t so much a sensory overload as a full-on assault. Not that this is intended as a slight upon the city; Sao Paulo is cosmopolitan, rich in culture, and complex. It is a place of many layers, and understandably tourists, travellers, and backpackers have flocked here by the million over the decades to get lost in it all – an easy thing to do in a city that is 20 million-strong.

However, since Brazil’s gradual emergence as a bona fide world power in the making, the city has gained a reputation altogether more serious. In keeping with its standing as a leading international business and financial centre, today Sao Paulo is regarded as one of the world’s leading Alpha cities, alongside the likes of Dubai, Seoul, Frankfurt, Brussels and Miami. Throngs of people are now as likely to arrive here to do business as they are to soak up the sights, sounds, colour and culture.

Irrespective of whether visitors are travelling to this larger-than-life city for business or pleasure, GRU International Airport is the gateway through which they will arrive. Based in Guarulhos, a region at the heart of Sao Paulo, the airport is not only the largest in the country but in the whole of Latin America. To provide a sense of scale, 36.6 million people passed through GRU’s gates last year alone – a colossal number that accounts for more than 65% of all international passenger flow into the country. To manage such large volumes of passengers, more than 40 airlines operate out of the airport, including prestigious carriers such as Emirates Airlines, who are set to launch their first Airbus A380 Superjumbo service to Brazil this year, along with Delta, Lufthansa, Air Canada, and KLM, linking the city to more than 100 national and international destinations.

The airport’s transport services aren’t limited only to passenger traffic, as GRU’s COO, Miguel Dau, was keen to stress: “In addition to being a platform for the air transport of passengers, the GRU Airport operates in logistics and is responsible for storage of 41% of all cargo imported and exported in Brazil by air. In the commercial area, the airport has contracts in different segments, such as retail, VIP rooms, parking, real estate development and advertising space, among others.”

Suffice to say, business is booming, and it is no coincidence that GRU International’s rise to prominence has come about following a decade-long economic boom in Brazil between 2003-2014, and the federal government’s decision to gradually privatise the country’s airports soon after. Whereas once, all of the country’s 66 airports were owned and managed by Infraero – a state-owned company that monopolised the market – this monopoly has since been broken, and today six of Brazil’s leading airports, including GRU International, are in private ownership, with a further four to follow this year. Naturally, the effect of this transition has been great, and the airport’s component companies – the airlines, retailers, logistics companies, government agencies and handling companies, among others – have increasingly worked in collaboration to ensure a level of service delivery that is high-quality, efficient, and safe.

Speaking on the effect that this change of landscape had on GRU and the wider industry, Miguel Dau explained: With the end of Infraero’s monopoly, greater competition among the companies that manage the airports has led to improved levels of service and cost-effectiveness.

GRU International Airport holds a prominent position in the industry, mainly from being located in the largest economic center of the country and our connectivity with the main Brazilian cities, as well as leading destinations in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. Today, GRU has double the passenger-handling capacity of the next airport behind us, and accounts for 65% of international passenger flows into Brazil. Such factors and characteristics should keep GRU as the main airport in the country for the foreseeable future.”

To help ensure that it maintains its standing as an international airport with service standards that are of the highest caliber, the airport’s frontline and backroom staff play an integral role in ensuring passengers enjoy a superior customer experience. As the country’s leading airport, GRU International is an ambassador of sorts for Sao Paulo, and as a result no expense is spared to ensure that all airport staff are trained to the highest standards, so as to ensure the highest levels of service. Miguel is proud of his staff, and is under no illusions as to their importance in driving GRU’s success to ever greater heights over the years to come.

Today, the airport has about 1,400 direct employees. Altogether, there are 30,000 direct and indirect employees.

Over the past four years, the airport has invested considerably in training employees to improve the quality of services and increase operational efficiency. The adoption of a collaborative policy involving all stakeholders also contributes greatly to improve the airport’s image among users. Between 2015 and 2016, GRU was considered in its category (over 15 million passengers) the best airport in the country in the Passenger Satisfaction Survey, sponsored by the Civil Aviation Secretariat (SAC). In the ranking of OAG (aviation specialist British consultancy), Guarulhos appears as the world’s second most punctual airport in 2016,” Miguel explained. He continued:

“All this is the result of actions not only to improve the physical structure of the airport or investments in new technologies, but mainly the commitment of employees to make the airport a pleasant travel experience, both for those arriving or leaving São Paulo.”

With regards to what the future holds, the signs are promising. It is well-known that the Brazilian economy has struggled greatly in recent years, and yet for all its difficulties GRU International has for the most part escaped these difficult times unscathed. For the sector in general, there is significant growth potential, and many industry experts are of the opinion that come the turn of the year, an anticipated upturn in economic fortunes should help stimulate demand for both domestic and international services.

At GRU International itself, the coming years will see the airport continue to expand and modernise, as it strives to take its operations and service standards to the next level. Following the success of an airport upgrade just prior to the 2014 World Cup, conducted in partnership with communications and IT solutions provider, SITA, more work is in the pipeline for 2017. Having provided critical systems for the 2014 airport transformation, including the airport operations database, resource manager, flight information displays, and automated passenger announcement system, SITA will once again assist in the ambitious Terminal 2 modernisation project. Miguel concluded the interview on this point, stating:

“Today, the main work in progress is the Terminal 2 modernisation project, which should be completed by the end of this year. The project will expand the capacity of operational areas such as check-in, X-ray inspection, baggage claim, and passport control. As a parallel work, the dealership has been intensively acting on the commercial area, seeking new contracts with retailers, airlines, and logistics companies, among others.

In this context, we set up contracts with Dufry to open two large stores in Terminal 2, with the Peruvian Retail Services, which will have four new stores at the airport, with SouthRock, which will bring to the airport brands well-known by buyers, such as TGI Fridays, among other businesses. The goal for 2017 is to further expand the range of services to passengers, especially in the food court, shops, and new travel destinations.”