Você está falando sério? 800 aeroportos? (Are you serious? 800 airports?)

Last month in Paris, Ms. Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, delivered a speech wherein she declared the ambitious goal of building 800 new airports in the country, enough she said to bring an airport within 60km of every city of at least 100,000 population.

Let’s put this 800 airport goal in perspective.

First, according to its 2007 census, the country of Brazil contains only 253 municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more, so if Brazil had no commercial airports whatsoever, this many airports could serve 100% of the target cities. Given the high level of urbanization of Brazil’s population, many of these municipalities are adjacent to one or more others, so even fewer airports would be required.

For comparison, the United States has 503 commercial airports, and a population of 315 million, with a per capita income of $48,100. Brazil, which has a geographical area about 15% less than that of the 50 US states but a higher metropolitan population density, is forecast to reach a maximum population of 207 million in 2030, 35% less than today’s US population. This is due to Brazil’s fertility rate already having sunk below the replacement rate. Brazil’s current per capita annual income is around $11,700.

Summing up: the US has one airport per 626,000 people. If Brazil had NO existing airports now and built 800 by 2030, the result would be one airport per 259,000 people. In terms of income, in the US it requires $30 billion in GDP on average to support a single commercial airport. If Brazil’s per capita income grew continuously at 5% per year in real terms through 2030, each of the promised 800 airports would still only be supported by $7.3 billion.

China plans to add “only” 300 more airports by 2030, at which time it will also be the largest economy on the planet and have a population of about 1.5 billion (just slightly ahead of India). Pie-in-the-sky hopes of the Brazilian government for a treasure from privatizing Infraero aside, I think most travelers would be content if Brazil were able to build just two new airports: one each to replace Rio de Janeiro, Tom Jobim (GIG), and one to replace São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU)!

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