São Paulo – A Tale of Three Airports

São Paulo in Brazil is a sprawling metropolis of 40m people living in 39 municipalities, and it is one of the largest trading centres in Latin America. Renato Serra Fonseca outlines the intertwined history of its airports, which handle around 75m passengers every year.

Congonhas was originally in open countryside but the city has built up around it. A TAM Airlines Airbus A319 passes over the city on short finals to Runway 17R. (AirTeamImages.com/RenatoSerraFonseca)

São Paulo has the second highest population of any metropolitan area in the world, only edged out of the top spot by Tokyo. Even if only the city is considered, it ranks 12th with around 12m people calling it home. Demand for air travel continues to increase despite problems in the Brazilian economy, and the combined throughput at its airports now matches that of other major cities such as Los Angeles. Even back in the 19th century São Paulo was growing rapidly; its population expanded from 65,000 in 1890 to over one million 30 years later, as it evolved into an important centre for commerce at the confluence of Brazil’s road and rail network. Coffee passed through the city en route from the interior to Santos which became the largest seaport in Latin America, transhipping 50% of Brazil’s imports and exports.

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