Brazil was the trip I'd been putting off for a few years -a place identified many years ago by JB and I as the home of one of the World's major Boeing 737 fleets, and therefore a country that just had to be visited at some stage, but one that I wasn't too keen about going to. As soon as it had appeared in the 'top five' of our trips wish list, and discussion commenced of how to do it, the usual, wildly exaggerated personal accounts of the country's reputation as one of the dangerous for personal safety anywhere in the world soon took over in the back of my mind. I had more or less 'wimped out' last year at this time, when we instead made yet another trip to the USA, but with that part of the world now effectively out of the picture for us for the time being, 2002 I knew, was the right time to put fears aside, and just do it !. I'm glad I did .....
Cheap flights to that part of the world aren't quite as well advertised as the more widely-booked USA, Far East and Australasia areas, however a few calls to dedicated 'Latin America' travel agents soon showed a cheap Air France deal as the most promising option - it also meant I could fly from Newcastle, effectively cutting an extra day either side of the trip in order to get to London and back. It was the first time we'd booked with dialaflight.com and I can whole-heartedly recommend them - extremely helpful, and they came up with an 'open jaw' into Rio and out of Sao Paulo, on the days we wanted which were only a matter of weeks away, for £430 for the four sectors.
Preparations were therefore well under way in late January, although vaccinations were something that I had forgotten about until a few days before my departure - it takes ten days for those recommended, which include Polio, Typhoid and Hepatitis A, to take effect so I went without (something that I am hoping is not a factor as I nurse an odd 'mini cold' as I write this - maybe it's just the fact I went from high summer in the Tropics, to deep mid-winter in the North-East of England in the space of a few hours last Thursday !).
Up at 'o-dark-hundred' on the morning of Thursday 31st January, to leave Newcastle on the first Paris-CDG departure of the day, flown by British European 146-200 G-JEAY, my first flight on 'Jersey'. A few hours walking around CDG yielded 12 new airliners, including the first two Air France A.330s, and then it was to the gate in 2C to meet up with JB from Heathrow, and join the throng getting on Boeing 777 F-GSPC to Rio. Leaving Paris-CDG at 1403L we settled down for the next 11+ hours - this had to be one of the most uncomfortable long-haul flights I'd ever taken, certainly unlike other 777s I'd been on, and it was with relief that, completely shattered, we touched down at Rio-Galeao just after 10pm local time - at 11hrs6mins my 7th longest sector ever, and having crossed the equator for my first time ever. As soon as you land at Rio an odd smell seeps through the air conditioning - not very pleasant ! - although this became less important as tantalizing glimpses of Varig 737s were had from either side of the aeroplane.
Once through immigration/customs, we headed straight for one of the two hotels actually inside the airport terminal, not wishing to brave the unknown, into the centre of Rio late at night. We had booked a room at the Pousada Galeao - the more down-market of the two - by fax (5521 3398 3854), and were quoted a rate of 170R$ (approx. 3.30R$ = 1£) for a double room, plus 5% tax. The hotel is small, with only 14 rooms, and takes up a corner of the arrivals area in the terminal and can be quite difficult to find, which can be less than ideal as you are being hassled by all and sundry for taxis etc. Basically as you leave the customs area (if you don't arrive on a Star Alliance airline who arive into Terminal 2) turn immediately left and it's straight in front of you on the other side of the terminal floor. The hotel is effectively just a corridor with rooms on either side, the room itself being one of the smallest I'd stayed in since visiting Japan a few years ago - indeed the fact that it had no windows too made it very reminiscent for me of the hotel inside the Osaka-Itami terminal.
An early-ish start the next morning, and we were out of the hotel at 0800L for a look around the terminal - a mid-day check-out time meant we were able to leave the bags in the room and go off for our first taste of Brazillian spotting. The Galeao airport is built on the 'Ilha de Governado' island, and has two connected terminals, (two large semi-circles side-by-side, vaguely familiar of the American Airlines terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth !), within each are two viewing areas on the third floor, enclosed in glass, giving good views of nearly all the parking stands and the runway in front of the terminal (15/33), with quite an impressive backdrop to boot. One of these areas close to a food court in terminal 1 with handy seating, became our favoured spot for the time we spent at Galeao. Only a few international stands at the extreme ends of the two terminals, and some off-stand parking used by international traffic to the western end of the terminal complex remain unseen from this point. The other runway (10/28) can be seen from some large windows on the land-side of the terminal just beyond a shopping area on the third floor.
Logged on our first morning at Galeao
Fri 1/1/02 Rio de Janeiro-Galeao GIG/SBGL (0800-1200)
Fly S.A Linhas Aereas PP-BLS 727-224 20655 934
Fly S.A Linhas Aereas PP-JUB 727-227 21242 1196
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOC 737-75B 28101 17
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOF 737-76Q 30273 843
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOI 737-76N 32574 983
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOJ 737-8CX 32359 1041
TAM Brasil PT-MQG F.100 11527
TAM Brasil PT-MQO F.100 11423
TAM Brasil PT-MQQ F.100 11265
TAM Brasil PT-MQS F.100 11431
TAM Brasil PT-MQU F.100 11264
TAM Brasil PT-MRD F.100 11322
TAM Brasil PT-MRM F.100 11422
TAM Brasil PT-MRR F.100 11461
TAM Brasil PT-MZJ A.320-232 1251
TAM Brasil PT-MZZ A.320-232 1593
VARIG PP-VNP 767-241ER 23802 172
VARIG PP-VNS 767-241ER 23806 181
VARIG PP-VOE 737-341 24276 1645
VARIG PP-VOF 737-341 24277 1658
VARIG PP-VOH 737-341 24279 1673
VARIG PP-VOK 767-341ER 24843 314
VARIG PP-VOO 737-341 24936 1951
VARIG PP-VOR 737-33A 24093 1727
VARIG PP-VOT 737-341 25049 2091
VARIG PP-VOU 737-341 25050 2125
VARIG PP-VPQ 737-36Q 28664 2940
VARIG PP-VQD 737-76N 28584 170
VARIG PP-VQE 737-76N 28585 173
VARIG PP-VQK MD-11ER 48758 615
VARIG PP-VQN 737-33A 24098 1763
VARIG PP-VQR 737-4Y0 24511 1759
VARIG PP-VQS 737-4Y0 24513 1779
VARIG PP-VQZ 737-33A 27284 2606
VARIG PP-VRA 777-2Q8ER 28689 365
VARIG PP-VSA 737-85F 30571 936
VASP PP-SFN 737-3L9 27925 2763
VASP PP-SMF 737-2A1 20589 301
VASP PP-SMH 737-2A1 20778 325
VASP PP-SMQ 737-214 20155 180
VASP PP-SMR 737-214 20157 189
VASP PP-SNM A.300B2-203 0205
VASP PP-SPJ 737-2M9 21236 461
2710 Learjet VU-35A 631
International Traffic - Iberia A.340 EC-HGX, American Boeing 777 N798AN, United Boeing 767-300 N641UA, Delta Boeing 767-300 N190DN & Aerolineas Argentina Douglas MD.88 LV-VGC.
Certainly more than I had expected !. Highlights were the immaculate and presumably freshly-delivered GOL Boeing 737-800 PR-GOJ, and VARIG's similar type PP-VSA which also sported winglets. The first VARIG wide-body we logged was my ninth-last MD-11 in the world, my last VARIG example PP-VQK, while the first of some familiar 737 frames logged currently residing in Brazil, was VARIG's 737-300 PP-VOR, which once gave me such a hard time as Paramount's G-PATE when based at Newcastle for a summer, and handled by Dan Air !.
There is quite a sizeable military area in the south-east corner of the airfield, on either side of 15/33 which contained various Brazillian military types (mainly C-130s) as well as a USAF C-141B - too far away for our optical equipment but identified whilst arriving or departing were Boeing 707 FAB2404 and HS.748 C91-2511. On leaving the terminal heading into Rio de Janeiro you pass the military area on your right-hand side - on a ramp we saw 3 HS.748s, two of which seemed inactive with no rudders, anybody have IDs for these two ?.
31 Brazillian new then, 28 of which were domestic aeroplanes, and 18 new Boeing 737s, halfway towards a milestone. Traffic was steady, but went noticably quiet at lunch-time, so after the Argentinian MD.88 arrived just before mid-day we checked out of the hotel, and made our way into Rio.
A quick note here about currency - we had been advised by guide books to take US Dollar travellers cheques (Brazillian currency is not available in bureaux de change in Europe apparently), but we immediately came across a problem cashing these in the bank situated in the Galeao terminal. A helpful clerk told us to cash these at a 'Banco de Brasil' at Copacabana beach (which we weren't planning on visiting !). We fortunately both had an amount of US Dollar cash with us however, which we were able to exchange, to tide us over.
As we had our suitcases we decided to damn the expense and take a taxi straight to our hotel in Rio centre. Booked at an 'official' taxi desk on the arrivals level, we pre-paid our 38R$ and left for the surprisingly quite short trip from the city's 'international airport' to central Rio de Janeiro. It had taken me some time to decide on a hotel in Rio, and indeed the most suitable area, but in the end I settled for quite a grand affair, the Guanabara Palace Hotel situated in the Centro 'business district' area just west of the downtown Santos Dumont Airport. With a web site (http://www.windsorhoteis.com/guanabara) and e-mail access a double room (interestingly called a 'double standard' room on the web site !) had been booked at a rate of 75USD + 15% tax - which we thought was quite a bargain as it was very up-market. A vital part of any room in Brazil is the room safe, quite a new-fangled affair which allowed you to specify your own four-figure code, which you typed in to gain access again - we opted for 1041 the line number of the morning's highlight, the GOL -800 !. The hotel web-site boasts a roof terrace pool area with a stunning view, which we checked out before we left for the airport - not quite as stunning a view, or large an area as the web site suggested, but it was interesting to note that the holding point for the '20' runways at Santos Dumont airport were visible, at about 3/4 mile away - probably scope-able with a good 'pole'.
I kept an eye open for other suitable hotels in the area during my stay at the Guanabara Palace Hotel - the Grand Hotel Sao Francisco, which is found easily via a web search, is more or less just around the corner from the Guanabara Palace - there is a hotel across the main road and park area directly in front of Santos Dumont Airport (5-10 minute walk) which had 'Othon' in its name, possibly the Rio Othon Hotel or something similar - and the famous Hotel Gloria which again has a web presence, can be seen just to the south-west of the airport during the taxi-out to runway 02R at SDU, across a small bay area and beach, so it must have rooms that overlook the thresholds to the 02 runways, and certainly the approach to 02.
We took a taxi from the hotel to Santos Dumont Airport, one of the yellow cabs parked outside the hotel - the driver said '12Reals', which we later were to find out was much more than a metered taxi - and only ten minutes later we were at SDU/SBRJ. Santos Dumont has an unusal terminal, open-style much like a train station in the UK, with marbled floors - very smart - and is bordered on three sides by Guanabara Bay. To the right hand end of the terminal as you enter it is a staircase leading to two restaurants and a viewing area. We expected this viewing area to be behind glass, which it is partly, but the windows had been slid open allowing ventilation (which was much needed in the 30degree heat), the openings being covered by a netting which still allowed photography. Immediately we were struck with the smallness of Santos Dumont - I was expecting it to be small but not that small !. Traffic was much slower than I expected too, with repetition beginning within three hours - the majority of the airport's flights are to Sao Paulo-Congonhas, with a handful of each carrier's aircraft seemingly assigned solely to these flights (the 4 VARIG 737-300s, the 3 of the 4 VASP 737-300s in the fleet, and of course the TAM Airbus A.319s).
The restaurant to the right of this viewing area is split into two sections, an 'a la carte' section and a bar/cafe section with seating next to the windows - the latter we used regularly during our time at SDU. We filled our time at SDU marvelling at the approach from the south (inside Sugar Loaf mountain), worried about the closeness of some very large ships to the north of the airport passing under the approach for 20L/R, watching the masses of people (and the huge numbers of stylish Brazillian women) getting off the various VASP/TAM/GOL arrivals immediately in front, timing the extremely rapid GOL Boeing 737 turnarounds (some of the quickest we've seen anywhere in the world), and basically just watching how the Brazillian's work civil aviation. It was interesting to see passengers off TAM A.319s being given ice creams before de-planing, and offered umbrellas at the top of the steps for the walk to the terminal during showers !.
The biz hangars can be seen by leaving the terminal and turning right, and there they are, immediately adjacent to the north end of the terminal. There is however a military area past this hangar, and there was an alarming number of military personnel milling around. We did walk around the corner where a FAB 125 was identified, but another was not readable.
A full log from Santos Dumont on the first afternoon in Brazil.
Fri 1/1/02 Rio de Janeiro-Santos Dumont SDU/SBRJ (1330-1930)
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOB 737-75B 28099 13
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOD 737-75B 28105 66
GOL Transportes Aereos PR-GOH 737-76N 32440 954
Rio Sul PT-SLW 737-53A 24922 1964
Rio Sul PT-SPF ERJ.145ER 034
Rio Sul PT-SPH ERJ.145ER 060
Rio Sul PT-SPI ERJ.145ER 065
Rio Sul PT-SPJ ERJ.145ER 083
Rio Sul PT-SPN ERJ.145ER 127
Rio Sul PT-SPP ERJ.145ER 350
Rio Sul PT-SRC Emb.120ER 311
Rio Sul PT-SSF 737-5Q8 28201 2999
Rio Sul PT-SSG 737-5Q8 28055 3024
Rio Sul PT-SSJ 737-33A 24791 1984
Rio Sul PT-SSK 737-3Y0 23922 1538
Rio Sul PT-SSM 737-5Y0 25191 2260
TAM Brasil PT-MQN F.100 11409
TAM Brasil PT-MRJ F.100 11451
TAM Brasil PT-MRP F.100 11472
TAM Brasil PT-MZA A.319-132 0976
TAM Brasil PT-MZC A.319-132 1092
TAM Brasil PT-MZD A.319-132 1096
TAM Brasil PT-MZE A.319-132 1103
TAM Brasil PT-MZF A.319-132 1139
TAM Brasil PT-WHK F.100 11452
TAM Brasil PT-WHL F.100 11471
VARIG PP-VPR 737-36Q 28761 3011
VARIG PP-VPU 737-36N 28567 2971
VARIG PP-VPY 737-33R 28871 2900
VARIG PP-VPZ 737-3S3 29245 3061
VASP PP-SFJ 737-3K9 24212 1633
VASP PP-SOT 737-3L9 25150 2074
VASP PP-SOU 737-3L9 25360 2140
N220LC Challenger 600S 1071
PP-OSA Challenger 604 5411
PR-LTA Bae125-800 258025
PT-GAF Hawker 800 258261
PT-MPL Beech 400A RK-158
PT-PRR CitationJet CJ1 0403
PT-WBC Astra 1125SPX 086
PT-WHC Beech 400A RK-058
PT-WUF Beech 400A RK-171
PT-WUV Falcon 20C 129
PT-WXL Challenger 604 5321
PT-XLI Learjet 35A 299
PT-XYW Challenger 604 5484
EU93-6050 Hawker800/U-125 258041
plus EMB.110 PT-SHO, Let 410 PR-IMO, FAB EMB.110/C-95A 2286, and ....
PT-SAD/135L-484 ERJ.135 Legacy Greek AF
This last one landed mid-afternoon, and night-stopped, presumably used as an Embraer shuttle for a night in Rio. This provided the ultimate irony for me, my first full day abroad spotting since the Greek 'debacle' of last year, and this turns up !!.
Although we only logged 33 airliners that afternoon, 27 were new, those old machines including an ex-Air Atlantis Boeing 737-300, Hispania 737-300, and China Eastern Fokker 100. There was of course those six Rio Sul ERJ.145s too - a good start to the fleet, and another of the reasons for coming down to Brazil. I got another 11 new 737s too !.
We took a metered cab from outside the terminal for our return to the hotel, which was only 5R$, and we ate that night in the restaurant on the roof of the hotel, which did a very reasonable and tasty three course buffet, for something in the region of a tenner (GBP) a head including beer.