Global charter company Air Charter Service is among a long list of hospitality providers grappling with the logistical challenges posed by World Cup host Brazil. ACS, which flew a total of 231,502 passengers around the globe in '13 and boasts annual revenue of more than $400M, will organize flights for thousands attending the event, including participating teams, sponsors and media outlets. ACS CEO Justin Bowman declined to name any specific clients, but said he expects this World Cup to be bigger, and more challenging, than any of the previous five for ACS, which was founded in '90. Brazil's size and limited airport capacity, among other factors, have presented ACS with a World Cup unlike any that Bowman can remember. "I have never, ever heard anything as difficult as this one," Bowman told SBD Global. "It's got some pluses, Brazil, and some minuses -- the minuses being the fact that the authorities haven't allowed, even though there's insufficient capacity, the authorities haven’t allowed companies like us to bring in capacity from outside of Brazil to meet the demand."
LONG SCHLEP: One positive, from ACS' perspective, is this year's host nation's distance from many of the teams and organizations that will attend. "Previously, the World Cup has been in perhaps slightly more easily accessible locations, such as when it was in Germany," Bowman said. "A lot of the teams were able to perhaps block out the entire first class section of a scheduled flight. There were probably less team charters going into the event [than for this year's World Cup.]" Once teams arrive in Brazil, the far-flung nature of the 12 stadiums will mean flying will remain necessary. "The distances are huge. You have five-hour flights for teams, they’re playing one game in Manaus and the next game is in Belo Horizonte. It’s a hell of a schlep down from one end of the country to the other." Many of those domestic flights will take place after the group stage and thus require patience and flexibility from ACS, as on-field results will dictate clients' desired destinations. Bowman: "We currently plan as far as the end of the group stage. ... Come the final seven days of the group stage, we'll be actively plotting, what does that mean, where is the team going to be going next? ... Until you know how the team does, you can't really do anything other than be ready."
'TRIPLE WHAMMY': Bowman referred to Brazil's lack of runway space, the long distances between venues and the Brazilian government's unwillingness to give foreign airlines clearance as a "triple whammy." Bowman: "Your first whammy is the lack of runway capacity even before this event took place. The second whammy is the distances involved, which means more people are going to have to fly than they normally would, just because it's so far between events. … The third one is the lack of the authorities allowing non-Brazilian aircraft to do any domestic flight." Bowman said that the government's resistance to int'l airlines created a major obstacle. "You have the problem of state regulations and the red tape. To try and fly the teams around domestically, they've completely blocked it. You have to fly the team on a local airline's aircraft. And, of course, none of the local airlines have sufficient capacity because they have all sold all their flights to the fans." He added that despite efforts from employees at ACS' Sao Paulo office, which opened in '10, Brazilian authorities insisted on giving domestic airlines priority. "We have an office in Brazil and we have very good relationships with the authorities and we certainly did our best to try and explain the problems we faced and the lack of capacity. And the decision was taken, I guess at the very top, that they wanted to protect the interests of the Brazilian airlines." Bowman continued, "I'm not sure that's necessarily good for the interests of the fans, the teams, or the football family, but certainly the Brazilian airlines are going to make a lot of money out this event, because they have been protected from anybody else coming in to potentially steal some of their business." Bowman expects the travel problems to affect not only the teams and brands chartering flights to travel around Brazil to attend games, but also the media. Bowman: "They have as bad a problem as anybody -- they haven't got enough equipment to be at every single stadium without having to move around."
ADDRESSING SOCIAL UNREST: One issue that has sparked a lot of conversation inside and outside Brazil has been the number of Brazilians who have expressed their frustration with the money being spent on the event. Bowman, though, said that based on his experience, he is confident the Brazilian government will "find ways of stopping those issues during the sporting event because they can't afford for the world to see their country in a bad light." Bowman: "We'll deal with it if it happens, but I don't think it will."
NO ROOM FOR ERROR: With runways packed to capacity by private jets, Bowman said that he envisions travelers potentially missing games in the event of inclement weather or technical difficulties. "The number of private jets that are coming in for these big events are probably three times more than the number of commercial airliners coming in," Bowman said. "Trying to fit that all into the runway capacity is going to be the biggest challenge that Brazil is going to have to face. If there's any bad weather, if there's any issues with an airplane with a technical problem, or thunderstorms closing the airport for an hour, there's really nowhere left to go." Bowman added, "I can see coming down the barrel, not, hopefully, anything that would have anything to do with us, but I can see stories where large numbers of people end up missing games because they simply couldn't make it from A to B in time." Despite the lack of runway capacity and the government restrictions he described, Bowman evaluated ACS' success in working around these obstacles as not "as good as we probably would have liked, but better than we'd feared it was going to be." Bowman: "This one is the most challenging one I think we've faced so far. But it's all good fun, that's what keeps it interesting."