The History of TAP Air Portugal
By Robert Waldvogel
Because of the limited size of its home market, TAP Air Portugal replaced its 747-200Bs with a half-dozen, lower-capacity L-1011-500s, which became its intercontinental type for a decade and a half.
The impetus for the carrier’s creation, however, was not necessarily so clearly defined. While the country’s strategic location optimized it to serve as a transatlantic gateway during World War II-and aeronautical advancement would one day place it at the air crossroads between Africa and North and South America-interest in establishing such an indigenous airline was lukewarm at best.
Indeed, airline operations up to this time had been sporadic, unstructured, and were considered particularly important. The first skeletal concern, controlled by Air France, served Tangier and then Casablanca with a Lockheed Lodestar under the banner of Aero Portuguesa, but it was discontinued in April of 1953.
A domestic city pair, Lisbon-Oporto, which it had also connected, was subsequently served by another local, fledgling company, Companhia de Transportes (CTA), but its reign was also brief and gave way to what would become the definitive flag carrier, Transportes Aeros Portugueses (TAP), a concern created by the government and considered a division of the Civil Aeronautics Secretariat.
Its initial route structure was, at one and the same time, logical and almost unfathomably ambitious-in the former case, encompassing domestic destinations and Ilha do Sal, or Sal Island, in the Cape Verde Islands, where a sound runway facilitated operations, and in the latter, a 24,540-kilometer African trans-navigation to the Portuguese colony of Lourenco Marques (Mozambique) dubbed the “Linha Aera Imperial,” or “Imperial air line,” with intermediate stops in Casablanca, Vila Cisneros, Bathurst, Robertsfield, Accra, Libreville, Luanda, Leopoldville, Elizabethville, and Salisbury.
Inaugurated on New Year’s Eve of 1946, it was operated by a 21-passenger, twin-engine DC-3 and took four days to complete.
Other, less ambitious scheduled services had included TAP‘s inaugural one to Madrid in pool with Iberia four months earlier, on September 19, and Paris the following summer, on August 10, 1947. Seville and London were added to the route system by the end of the decade.
Its eight DC-3s, sequentially registered CS-TDA through -TDH, were soon joined by four, quad-engine, tricycle undercarriage-equipped DC-4 Skymasters that were converted from military C-54 versions to commercial ones with seating for 44 to 54 and registered CS-TSA, -TSB, -TSC, and -TSD.
The 1950s were characterized by the acquisition of an even larger, more advanced airliner, the Lockheed L-1049G Super Constellation.
Based upon the original L-649/-749, it introduced a fuselage stretch, giving it a new, 113.4-foot overall length, four 3,250-hp Wright R-3350-972TC18-DA3 Turbo Compound engines, and new maximum take off weights and ranges of, respectively, 137,500 pounds and between 4,160 and 4,810 miles.
Numerically the most popular of the Constellation versions, it offered accommodation for 99 single-class, five-abreast passengers and Henry Dreyfuss-style interiors.
Placing its initial order for three aircraft in December of 1953, TAP took delivery of them two years later, in July and September of 1955, operating them domestically, from Lisbon to Oporto; continentally, to London and Paris; and intercontinentally to Lourenco Marques via Kano (Nigeria) and Leopoldville, reducing the run to 22 hours.
Its eventual fleet of six aircraft, including a leased L-1049E with earlier engines, bore registrations CS-TLA through -TLF and were operated until 1967.
Progressively expanding, TAP notched up several records by 1958, including the creation of a more than 14,000-kilometer route system, a 1,000-employee base, and the transport of more than 64,000 passengers.
The 1960s served as the airline’s threshold to the jet age. In order to be progressive and offer higher-speed flights between Lisbon and London, it leased a de Havilland DH.106-4B Comet from British European Airways (BEA), which itself had ordered six from the manufacturer for its Mediterranean sectors so that it could remain competitive with Air France on European routes, which itself operated the pure-jet Sud-Aviation SE.210 Caravelle III.
Based upon the long-range Comet 4, the 4B, the continental version, introduced a stretched fuselage, accommodating 84 four-abreast first class or up to 102 five-abreast coach passengers, and offered a new 118-foot overall length. Powered by four wing root-installed Rolls Royce Avon 524 turbojets, it featured a shortened, 107.10-foot wingspan and 545-mph cruise speed, considerably reducing block times between cities. Paradoxically, it shared the same forward fuselage and cockpit section as its Caravelle competitor.
Conceding, perhaps, to French competition, TAP discontinued its BEA aircraft lease in 1962, when it took delivery of its own, thrust reverser equipped Caravelle VIRs, eventually operating three twin-engine, 80-passenger aircraft registered CS-TCA, -TCB, and -TCC between Lisbon and Madrid. Like many other European carriers, however-such as Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Finnair, SAS, and Sabena-it soon considered it its short- to medium-range workhorse, connecting its home base with an increasing continental network that included the likes of Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Geneva, London, Madrid, Munich, and Zurich, albeit with less than daily service, offering passengers quiet, above-the-weather speed outside and meal service with wine inside, even in its coach cabins.
By 1964, it had carried its one millionth passenger.
Yet a third pure-jet type entered the fleet the following year, the 707-320B. Registered CS-TBA through -TBJ, along with CS-TBT and -TBU, the quad-engine Boeing facilitated the opening of intercontinental routes, such as its “Flight of Friendship” to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, a 19-hour segment to Goa, India, with five intermediate stops, and one to Bissau via the Cape Verde Islands.
With the retirement of its Constellations in 1967, TAP became Europe’s first all-jet airline.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, factored into its route system by the end of the decade.
The 1970s were marked with continued expansion. In 1971, for example, construction of new facilities in Lisbon, including a corporate headquarters, a training center, and a maintenance hangar, were completed, while 1974 witnessed several milestones, including a 32-strong fleet, a more than 40-destination route system, some 9,000 staff members, and 1.5 million passengers.
Technology was integral to its growth. TAPMATIC, an integrated reservation, passenger check-in, and load control computer system, was introduced, and TAP became the first European carrier certified to perform 747 Pratt and Whitney engine checks.
On April 15, 1975 it was nationalized.
Boeing played an integral role in its fleet renewal strategy. The 747-200B became its first intercontinental widebody and the narrow body 727-100 progressively replaced its Caravelles. Retaining the fuselage cross section of the 707 to permit the installation of six-abreast coach seating, the latter featured three, 14,000 thrust-pound Pratt and Whitney JT8D-1 low bypass ratio turbofans mounted on the aft fuselage and in the vertical tail, whose high horizontal stabilizer eliminated engine efflux interference. Its wings, unobstructed by pylons, offered maximum, short-field lift with its full-span leading edge slats and trailing edge triple slotted Fowler flaps.
The type remained in the fleet until 1989.
The decade also saw the continued additions of destinations, such as Milan, Lyon, and Luxembourg in Europe, Kinshasa in Africa, Montreal in Canada, Boston as an extension of the New York route in the US, and Caracas in South America.
The 1980s served as the threshold to the carrier’s new image and “TAP Air Portugal” name, which entailed aircraft logo, livery, and uniform changes, the introduction of its Navigator business class, and the opening of a cargo terminal and ticket office at the airport.
Offering too much capacity for its routes, the 747s were replaced with TriStar 500s and the 727-100s were complemented by 737-200 Advanceds in 1983. Originally powered by two pod-encased, wing underside attached Pratt and Whitney JT8D-7 engines, they were optimized for short-range, low-capacity, inter-European segments, although their maximum capacity was the same as the 727’s–130. TAP‘s year-earlier order constituted Boeing‘s 1,000th sale of the type.
Its registrations progressed from CS-TEK to -TEV.
The first of 14 next generation 737-300s, which featured a 104-inch fuselage stretches for up to 149 passengers and large-diameter, pylon-mounted, 20,000 thrust-pound CFM International CFM65-3 turbofans, joined the fleet in 1988, although some, as had occurred with the -200s, flew for TAP’s Air Atlantis charter subsidiary.
Expansion, particularly toward the end of the decade, was considerable: Athens, Dublin, Hamburg, Munich, Nice, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Toulouse, and Vienna were added in Europe, Abidjan and Dakar in Africa, Toronto in Canada, and Newark in the US.
The period was also marked by the gradual shift to Airbus Industrie aircraft, the first of which, the long-range, twin-engine, twin-aisle A-310-300, was delivered in 1988 and complemented the L-1011-500s on intercontinental routes, such as Lisbon to New York.
Carrying more than 3.7 million passengers and 65 million kilos of cargo in 1993, TAP Air Portugal served 57 destinations on five continents: Faro, Funchal, Horta, Lisbon, Ponta Delgada, Porto, Porto Santo, and Terceira domestically; Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna, Brussels, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, London, Luxembourg, Lyon, Madrid, Malaga, Milan, Munich, Nice, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna, and Zurich continentally; Tel Aviv in the Middle East; Abidjan, Bissau, Brazzaville, Casablanca, Dakar, Harare, Ilha do Sal, Johannesburg, Libreville, Luanda, Maputo, and Sao Tome in Africa; Boston, Montreal, Newark, New York and Toronto in North America; Curacao and Santo Domingo in the Caribbean; and Caracas, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Sao Paulo in South America.
Fleet consolidation continued. In 1994, for instance, TAP took delivery of the first of four, 274-passenger Airbus A-340-300s, which, sequentially registered CS-TOA, -TOB, -TOC, and -TOD, replaced the TriStars on intercontinental sectors, while the narrow body, twin-engine A-319, A-320, and A-321 family took over the role from the 737-200s and -300s.
TAP also became a founding member of the Qualiflyer Group of European airlines with Austrian and Swissair.
At the dawn of the 21st century, it carried more than five million passengers, operated a 40-strong fleet, implemented its Modernization of the Organization (MOP) program by subdividing the company into airline, handling, and maintenance business units, and launched its fifth corporate image since its 1945 founding with the introduction of the simpler “TAP Portugal” designation.
“The new image was designed to graphically communicate the idea of modernity, lightness, and the Portuguese way,” according to its website, “and to reinforce the name TAP, which both the Portuguese (people) and the company’s employees always preferred. It was the start of a new phase.”
In 2005 it joined the Star Alliance.
Operating 21 132-passenger A-319-100s, 19 162-passenger A-320-200s, three 200-passenger A-321-100s, 16 263-passenger A-330-200s, and four 274-passenger A-340-300s on more than 2,500 weekly flights to 76 destinations in 29 countries in 2017, TAP had achieved its goal of establishing Portugal as the aerial crossroads between Europe, Africa, and North and South America.