TAP’s Ramp Up Held Back By A330neo Engine Trouble, CEO Says

Credit: Kurt Hofmann

TAP Air Portugal will operate its entire fleet this summer as the national carrier prepares to operate 90% of the capacity it offered in summer 2019. 

“We are lucky to have one of the youngest Airbus fleets in Europe,” TAP CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener told Aviation Daily. “But we are also having discussions with suppliers, the chain around the fleet. We are spending a lot of time working on our fleet [with] our different partners.”

One such partner is engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce. TAP is operating a fleet of 19 A330neos and back in November 2018 became the first airline to operate the A330-900 with the engine-maker’s Trent 7000. 

“The A330-900 is the right aircraft, but one issue is the reliability of the engine. We are struggling with some programs we have to deploy on the Rolls-Royce engine and that is for me the main concern,” Ourmières-Widener said. The issue is limiting the availability of the A330-900. 

“The A330neo with 100% availability is a good product. But we are working hard with Rolls-Royce and Airbus to improve the availability of the aircraft,” she said. “It will depend how we can manage the program of improvement of these engines for this fleet. We are discussing with Rolls-Royce what we have to solve.”

TAP’s A330-900s operate on trunk routes from its Lisbon hub to North and South America. The type has recently been deployed on two new routes to Cancun in Mexico and Caracas, Venezuela. 

“We are operating 96 aircraft [when including subsidiary TAP Express] and we are still receiving A321LRs,” she said. At least two more A321LRs should join the TAP fleet in 2022. TAP has eight A321LRs in operation at present alongside 10 A321neo and 11 A320neo aircraft.

“The A321LR is an amazing aircraft, and we are exploring for next summer what kind of destinations it could serve,” Ourmières-Widener said. In 2022, the airline is focused on rebuilding its network and the capacity of the A321LR plays a key role.

“What is a amazing for us [is, with] TAP’s geographical position so [far] west in Europe, it is really giving us the opportunity of reaching east coast destinations in North and South America with the A321LR—for example to Recife in Brazil,” she said. The A321LR also can reach destinations to the south across Africa. 

TAP is meanwhile increasing its regional fleet with second-hand Embraer E190/195 E1s for Portugália Airlines, which operates under the TAP Express brand. TAP Express also has eight ATR 72-600s in operation.  

Ourmières-Widener said the fleet of E-Jets will grow because the size of aircraft is ideal for feeding its Lisbon hub. TAP Express currently operates 13—nine E190-E1s and four E195-E1s—but that total will soon rise to 19 aircraft. The additional aircraft will be second-hand E1s. “The E1 is the right size“, she said. 

TAP needs flexibility and agility to feed some routes, not all of which are big enough to support an aircraft the size of an A320, hence the importance of the Embraer jets. 

“The only limitation we have this year is about fleet. We are flying our aircraft a lot. And we are looking at how to reinforce our organizational setup to make sure we are doing everything when an aircraft is not able to be operational, for example in terms of maintenance,” Ourmières-Widener said. 

On the cargo side, TAP has been modifying A330-200 passenger carriers into freighters. “But they are on the ground, because we are still waiting for the EASA certification and cannot operate them for now,” Ourmières-Widener said.

Kurt Hofmann

Kurt Hofmann has been writing on the airline industry for 25 years. He appears frequently on Austrian, Swiss and German television and broadcasting…