By João Machado
GOL Makes the First Move For Brazil’s Market Consolidation
Last week’s news in Brazil’s aviation market fell as a surprise: GOL, the country’s largest domestic airline pre-COVID, is buying regional carrier MAP Linhas Aéreas, based in Manaus, for BRL28 million (approximately $5.5 million in current values).
MAP was founded in 2011, and it operated a fleet of ATR 42 and 72 from Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, Northern Brazil; in 2019, the airline received slots from the failing Avianca Brasil in São Paulo/Congonhas Airport, the country’s “goldmine” for its constrained capacity with huge corporate demand, and it was then bought by Passaredo (currently VoePass), with whom GOL had a sales partnership.
The deal is still pending approval by the local anti-trust authorities, but the most important part of this deal is that GOL will take with it all of MAP and VoePass’ slots in Congonhas. Months ago, VoePass had transfered all its slots to MAP, totaling an average of 26 daily operations (13 roundtrips) or just over 4.8% of the operations in the airport.
It might seem like a small number, but it will give GOL the isolated leadership in the airport over LATAM Brasil, providing further strength over the corporate market, the airline’s pre-pandemic stronghold.
In fact, this is basically the airline’s only goal with the acquisition, since GOL has pledged to maintain its single-fleet strategy – likely reshuffling the ATRs to VoePass – and leaving MAP’s Northern Brazil network to the partner airline, something confirmed by VoePass’ owner, José Luiz Felício Filho, in a letter that got to social media.
Although surprising, the move is seen as a play responding to Azul’s intentions of taking over LATAM Brasil via an agreement with the creditors of LATAM Airlines Group, as reported by AirlineGeeks last week.
GOL’s CEO, Paulo Kakinoff, mentioned that in the airline’s press release announcing the takeover. “We believe that the acquistion of MAP is, at this moment, the only viable opportunity of rational consolidation in the Brazilian aviation market. From now on, we will continue focused on the strategy of organic growth, stimulating demand for the expansion of our network,” Kakinoff wrote.
Nevertheless, Azul is moving behind the scenes not only with LATAM’s creditors, but also with the Brazilian government. If an eventual takeover or merger with LATAM Brasil were to happen, it would need to receive the green light by both Anac (the country’s civil aviation regulator) and Cade (the anti-trust authority).
In this regard, column Capital from Jornal O Globo linked Azul’s intentions to a lobbying effort that dates from the start of the country’s new administration, led by President Jair Bolsonaro, in 2019.
Last Friday, Bolsonaro entered a boarded aircraft to greet passengers (which reacted with both contempt and swear words, a symbol of the country’s political divide) and crew. Such an event breaks safety rules, and the column labeled it “the most explicit scene of [the] proximity relation” and the Embraer 195-E2 the President visited as a “[political] stage,” implying the airline consented with the visit.
So while GOL may have made its move, Azul continues its hunt for the top step of the Brazilian aviation market. Many analysts and insiders say an Azul-LATAM merging would not be feasible from an anti-trust point of view, but Azul is throwing its hand to make it happen.