TAP Portugal’s latest A330-300 comes wearing a lot of history

European flag carrier TAP Portugal continues its long-haul fleet expansion with the introduction of a second Airbus A330-300 into its fleet, but the aircraft provides a look back at the airline’s heritage by wearing a retro livery. The jet, is one of four former Singapore Airlines A330-300s joining the TAP fleet this summer is supporting the airline’s revised long-haul network strategy.

The special livery dates back to the 1950s and was worn by TAP Portugal aircraft throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. It was first introduced on a Lockheed Super Constellation delivered to the airline in July of 1955 and was used through to the arrival of its Boeing 727-200s. TAP describes the look as the “most emblematic historical corporate identity” of the Portuguese flag-carrier. The aircraft has also been christened ‘Portugal’, only the second aircraft to wear the nation’s name after a 747-200 delivered to TAP in February 1972 and operated through to June 1984.

TAP Portugal put the first of its four second-hand A330-300s into service on June 9, 2017 and ‘Portugal’ made its commercial debut on June 27, 2017 flying between Lisbon and Belo Horizonte in Brazil. The aircraft has since also flown to the Brazilian cities of Recife and Salvador as it promotes the airline and country brand in one of its most significant long-haul markets.

The A330-300s, configured in a two-class arrangement seating 30 passengers in Business Class and 255 in Economy, are partly replacing the airline’s smaller A330-200s (providing a 6.4% increase in capacity). Notably, the aircraft enable the carrier to boost both its premium capacity by 25% versus the smaller variant. The two additional aircraft are scheduled to arrive in the coming months and will enter service after cabin customisation work.

TAP Portugal has witnessed considerable change over the past couple of years following its privatisation. This has seen the formation of a new regional brand supported by the arrival of a brand new fleet of regional turboprop and jet aircraft; an expanded network, partly driven by the arrival of smaller Embraer E-Jets, which have complemented its mainline Airbus A320 Family short-haul fleet; and a revised long-haul strategy focussing on the USA market while its traditional economies across South America continue to recover.

The airline’s chief executive officer Fernando Pinto spoke to CAPA TV on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Cancun, Mexico earlier this month about some of its recent developments, highlighting the importance of its partnership with JetBlue Airways feeding its new long-haul routes in North America and the success of routes in Europe and Africa. Among other discussion points he also noted the importance of Lisbon as a home market for TAP being able to compete with rivals, including LCCs and discussed plans for utilising the A321neoLR across the Atlantic as well as into Africa and Europe.

This summer TAP Portugal has expanded its network capacity by 16.3%, according to published schedules displayed by OAG. This includes a new long-haul link to Toronto; expansion to Abidjan, Bissau and Lome in Africa; services to Alicante and Gran Canaria and a notable growth in Germany to Berlin Tegel (replacing Schoenefeld), Cologne/Bonn, Leipzig and Stuttgart. Alongside the new routes, TAP is also increasing capacity to almost 70 other markets across its network through additional frequencies and the deployment of larger aircraft.

CHART – TAP Portugal Monthly and Annual Network CapacitySource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG Schedules Analyser

It is clear that the period of restructuring following investment by new shareholders Atlantic Gateway Consortium, in TAP Portugal in November 2015 has led to a resurgent airline. TAP returned to profit in 2016 after two years of losses and has enjoyed a surge in passenger numbers since 4Q2016. This investment will also help fund the ‘neo’ transformation of the TAP fleet with the first of its A320neo and A330neo equipment arriving from 2018.

CHART – TAP Portugal Aircraft Delivery ScheduleSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG Schedules Analyser

The airline has a firm commitment for 53 aircraft, comprising 14 A330-900neo and 39 A320neo family aircraft (15 A320neos and 24 A321neos), including the A321neoLR aircraft, giving it the potential to open new long haul routes not possible with widebodies. These aircraft are to be delivered from 2018 to 2025 and will not just replace older classic versions of the jets, but also grow the fleet to close to 100 aircraft by the middle of the next decade.

Find out more: TAP Portugal transforms under new owners to tap potential; at forefront of narrowbody long haul

Latest news: TAP Portugal Group