If Brazil's economy is the powerhouse of South America, then São Paulo is its spark plug: The city alone accounts for more than 13% of Brazil's gross domestic product, leads Latin American cities in GDP, and is 10th by GDP among all the world's cities.

And by population — just under 20 million — São Paulo also ranks as the largest city in the entire Southern Hemisphere. No wonder this 458-year-old settlement's motto is “I am not led, I lead.”

In addition to being a major producer of autos, trucks, machinery, textiles and clothing, cement, chemicals, steel and lumber, São Paulo, of course, is neighbor to São José dos Campos, the headquarters of Embraer, Brazil's stellar builder of military, commercial and business aircraft. Brazil itself harbors a healthy population of indigenous business jets and turboprops serving local companies and wealthy individuals, the majority of them based in the greater São Paulo area. (For many years, the country has been Cessna Aircraft's largest export market.)

Hugely congested on the ground, São Paulo has over the last 50 years attracted the largest concentration of urban helicopters in the world — more than 500 at last count — to transport business executives and wealthy paulistanos over the mired surface traffic to the roofs of their high-rise condominiums. A portion of the fleet is leased or owned by companies, while the remainder are chartered. More than 70,000 flights per year are conducted within central São Paulo alone. All this aeronautical activity has its roots in Brazil's rich aviation heritage, dating from the activities of pioneer aviator and aircraft developer Alberto Santos-Dumont.

An indicator of the importance that São Paulo represents as a financial and business center is the huge number of foreign corporations that maintain offices in the city, led by the U.S., Germany and Sweden. Thus, going to Brazil to conduct business typically means going to São Paulo, and, as a result, the city also attracts a significant number of transient business aircraft from foreign countries.