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Brazil decides against opening flight routes to int'l carriers during Cup

RIO DE JANEIRO--Brazil has decided against opening more routes for foreign air carriers for next year's World Cup, certain it can handle the millions of sports fans who will use airplanes to get around South America's biggest country.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Civil Aviation Secretary Wellington Moreira Franco said the idea of expanding routes for foreign carriers “was never considered.” Moreira Franco said that Brazilian carriers can handle the load with 600,000 foreigners and more than 3 million Brazilians expected to head to matches.

Some fear Brazil could be stretched, its creaking airports already strained. The country has limited rail service, the road network is underdeveloped and overtaxed, and flying will be the only alternative for most traveling to the 12 host cities. The tournament opens June 12 in Sao Paulo and wraps up July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil is just a little smaller than the United States or China, and it can take 10 hours to fly the 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) from the Amazon city of Manaus in the northwest to Porto Alegre in the southeast — depending on the connections.

Moreira Franco said plans should be announced in the next few days, perhaps pegged to the outcome of Friday's World Cup draw, when teams will be placed by lot into eight four-team groups.

“We will improve and increase the aerial grid to offer more flights,” he said. “With that, not only will we take care of the demand, but it will cause a decrease in prices (of tickets).”

Moreira Franco's statement contrasts with that of Flavio Dino, president of the state-run Brazilian tourism agency Embratur, who said in a recent interview that the government was considering more foreign carriers.

“We have the view that it is important to ensure the expansion in the supply of flights,” he said. “We will re-plan the flight grid in Brazil and take other measures subsequently if so required. ... If necessary, we may further open the market to companies that only do international flights currently.”

Robert Mann, an independent airline industry analyst and former airline executive, doubts local carriers can handle the surge.

“Any of the Brazilian carriers will think they can do this on their own, but the problem is they will end up flying airplanes full in one direction and empty in another,” said Mann, who is based in New York. “If they say they can do this on their own, they really haven't thought it through.”

Mann listed three bottlenecks: airport terminal capacity, air traffic control capacity and limited passenger capacity for domestic carriers.

“I haven't operated an airline in Brazil for almost 20 years, but when I last did, it was a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Another analyst suggested there may be few problems because casual tourists will stay away.

“I think they'll handle it just fine,” said Savanthi Syth, an analyst with Raymond James, a financial services company. “The regular traffic stays away and gets backfilled with traffic related to the World Cup.”

Many of Brazil's airports are outdated, particularly in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Airports in both cities are getting minor facelifts, but major improvements won't be ready until after the Cup.

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