Portugal takes to the skies
TAP — or what was actually then called the Secção de Transportes Aéreos (Air Transport Section) — was created on 14 March 1945 by Humberto Delgado, who was Director of the Civil Aviation Office at the time. That was the year it acquired its first aircraft — two Dakota DC3s, with room for 21 passengers. The following year the company was finally able to begin operations after setting up the General Pilots Course. This meant it could launch its first two routes: the first commercial Lisbon-Madrid service began on 19 September 1946, while on 31 December the “Imperial Airline” was launched, flying between Lisbon, Luanda and Lourenço Marques, a return journey of 24,540 kilometres that took a total of 15 days and included 12 stopovers. Other routes launched before the end of the 1940s included: Paris (1948), London (1949) and Seville (1948).
By 1952 the world was in the jet age: in May that year, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) began the first regular jet service, flying the 11,000 kilometres from London to Johannesburg in less than 24 hours, cutting the journey time on turboprop aircraft in half. Production of the Boeing 707 also began in 1952.
TAP was privatised for the first time in 1953, changing from a public service to a public limited company (plc). TAP launched two new destinations: Casablanca and Tangier, the same year
The first four-engined aircraft, with the engines fixed on the wings, arrived in Lisbon in 1955 to be used on TAP’s long-distance routes and in November it began operating to Africa. That same year Admiral Gago Coutinho made a test flight to Rio de Janeiro.
Despite the fact that this was the same year that Humberto Delgado was dismissed, 1958 saw TAP break many records: the company employed more than one thousand people (1,009) for the first time ever, its network covered more than 14,000 kilometres, it had flown for more than 10,000 hours and had carried more than 64,000 passengers.
In 1960 TAP flew between Lisbon and Porto Santo for the first time, it launched the Flight of Friendship between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro, with fares that were less than half the standard price for the time, and began offering a service between Lisbon and Goa that took 19 hours and had five stopovers. In July 1962 TAP entered the jet age with the Caravelle VI-R, and began flying from Lisbon to Las Palmas and Santa Maria. In 1963 it was flying to Geneva, Munich and Frankfurt. In 1964 Santa Catarina airport in Funchal opened, with flights from Lisbon to Funchal route and the regular Lisbon-Sal-Bissau service. This was also the year TAP carried its millionth passenger.
In the 1970s the company received the Tourist Merit Gold Medal, included Boston in its New York route and began jet services between Lisbon and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). This was also when TAP transferred to its new facilities at Lisbon airport. It now also established a route to Montreal and offered connections between Lisbon and Ponta Delgada and Terceira. Aircraft upgrades continued: in 1972 TAP took possession of the first of four Boeing 747-200s. TAP began 1974, the year of the 25 April Revolution, with 32 state-of-the-art aircraft operating to more than 40 destinations on four continents, it began offering computerised reservations, load control and check-in (TAPMATIC), and became the first European airline to carry out major comprehensive overhauls of the Boeing 747 engines. By the end of 1974, TAP had carried more than 1.5 million passengers, flown 68,210 hours over a network of almost 103,000 kilometres and had a staff of over 9,000.
The company was caught up in the wave of nationalisations during the year following the April Revolution, and was turned into a state-owned enterprise corporation. In 1979, the company implemented a modernisation programme that also resulted with it being renamed TAP Air Portugal.
In 1980, the national airline unveiled a new image, which included: new uniforms, logo and aircraft colours. Other innovations dating from this time include: the launch of Atlantis, the in-flight magazine, the creation of Executive Class and the opening of a new cargo terminal at Lisbon airport. Also in this year that the route to Milan was extended to Rome, a new Lisbon-Barcelona route was opened and TAP signed its first protocol with Iberia. In the mid-1980s, TAP opened a ticket office at Lisbon airport and, for the first time, it carried more than two million passengers in a single service year. In 1985 the company began flying between Porto and Caracas and the company museum opened its doors to the public. At the end of the 1980s TAP introduced an automatic fare calculation and ticket issuing system and became the first airline to offer ground to air telephone services via satellite.
The 1990s was the decade of the Boeing, the first commercial jet to be designed entirely by computer, and the decade when, for the first time in its history, TAP carried more than three million passengers in a single year. During these years TAP began offering flights from Porto to Barcelona and Basel and reopened the route to Salvador da Baía. During the 1990s TAP modernised along with the country and entered the Airbus era, consolidating its fleet of more economical and versatile aircraft. During this decade TAP received the PTA—Portugal Turismo e Atualidade award from the magazine Gente e Viagens, launched the company website (1996) and Portuguese writer José Saramago celebrated receiving his Nobel Prize for Literature on board a TAP aircraft.
At the start of the new millennium TAP carried more than five million passengers (by 2004 this had risen to 6.5 million) and its maintenance and engineering unit received certification from the Brazilian Civil Aviation Authority and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
During the first decade of the 21st century TAP experienced its fastest growth and, for the first time in many years, reported profits of several million euros. At the same time, the TAP fleet grew to total 40 aircraft and, on 1 February 2005, in TAP’s “cathedral” — Hanger 6 — the company revealed its new image, which included a new logo — the fifth since the company was founded in 1945 — and a new name “TAP Portugal”. The new image was designed to graphically communicate the idea of modernity, lightness and the Portuguese way, and to reinforce the name TAP, which both the Portuguese and the company’s employees always preferred. It was the start of a new phase.
The Portuguese airline also won national and international awards in various areas the same year , and was a Harvard case study, while it was being considered for Star Alliance membership.
2006 was the year of consolidation of several commercial agreements, as well as a year of prizes for the national airline: TAP took control of VEM (Varig Manutenção & Engenharia), the largest maintenance centre in South America, and flew a record 47 weekly direct flights to Brazil, the company’s frequent flyer scheme, the Victoria Programme, was named the best of the year and the company’s new image received the Best Branding and Re-Branding award in the Freddie Awards.
During the years that followed, TAP Portugal continued to receive many awards in many different categories: between 2007 and 2009 it was named the tenth safest airline in the world and the “Best Airline”, for the fourth year in a row, at the same time as Star Alliance — of which TAP is an integral member — was named best Airline Alliance for the third consecutive year. In 2008 the awards kept rolling in, and on 1 August, TAP carried a record 33,464 passengers in a single day. As well as all of these prizes, the company received several awards in the area of energy and environmental efficiency, including the “Planet Earth” award from UNESCO, in recognition of the company’s CO2 Emissions Offset Programme.
More information here.