Everything from flight schedules to hotel availability to stadium plans is going to be uncertain up until the last minute in what the FIFA president is saying one of the least prepared tournaments he's ever seen.
Five months from the start of the World Cup, Brazilian authorities seem unsure about how to handle the crunch of international visitors, many of whom are expected to rely on air travel for the month-long tournament.
The chief of staff for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said this week that a presidential decree was being considered to open more air routes to foreign carriers, partly aimed at keeping down soaring prices.
The state-run tourism agency Embratur, which expects about 500,000 visitors, also said foreign carriers may be needed to help move traffic to the 12 host cities.
Those views clash with the position of Civil Aviation secretary Wellington Moreira Franco who, in a recent interview with The Associated Press, said the body would rely on domestic operators only.
“We will consider all possibilities, including opening the market,” Gleisi Hoffmann, Rousseff’s chief of staff, told the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.
She said it could be done quickly through what she called “provisional measures.”
Robert Mann, an independent airline industry analyst and former airline executive based in New York, said foreign carriers coming in at the last minute might make matters worse.
“It will simply add to the congestion already experienced in Brazilian air traffic control, airport and terminal facilities,” Mann said in an email to the AP, adding a similar surge in Brazilian carriers could cause the same problems.
“While the inbound international flying is relatively easily planned, the key issue is that much of the intra-Brazilian flying would be almost at a moment’s notice since it corresponds with which teams advance in the early rounds. So one may plan in theory, but the actual demand may differ in practice.”
Carlos Ebner, the International Air Transport Association director for Brazil, said any changes would be complex and require time.
“The logistics are complicated,” he said in a statement to the Brazilian Association of Airlines. “These are not buses. It takes three or four months at least in advance for companies to be able to plan.”
Ebner said the knockout stage of the tournament, when the 32 teams are winnowed to 16, would be unpredictable and the most difficult.
“We will be dealing with the unknown,” Ebner said. “There won’t be time to mount an operation.”
Brazil’s airports are generally old and outdated, which is likely to create bottlenecks in the air and on the ground. Delays are sure to anger visiting soccer fans — and more than 3 million Brazilians expected to attend — and could embarrass Rousseff, who is up for re-election in October.
Air will be the mode of travel for foreigners. Brazil has limited rail service and the road network is underdeveloped and crowded.
Some airports are undergoing last-minute renovations, but many of the upgrades won’t be finished in time. Airports listed as the most crowded are Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Sao Paulo and Brasilia.
Air travel is only part of a long list of problems surrounding the World Cup, which opens on June 12 in Sao Paulo and ends on July 13 in Rio.
Only six of the 12 World Cup venues are ready, and at least two of the six may not be delivered until April. This leaves less time for television broadcasters to prepare. It also causes confusion in ensuring that tickets correspond to stadium seating configurations, which may not be known until the last minute.
Brazil is spending about $3.6 billion on new stadiums or refurbishing old ones, and the price keeps increasing with cost overruns and worker overtime.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter acknowledged to the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures that Brazil is “the country that is the furthest behind” in World Cup preparations in his four decades of experience.
Hotel prices and air fares are also sky-rocketing with the government promising a crackdown on price gouging.
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Photo credit: This Sept. 11, 2013 file photo released by Portal da Copa 2014 shows an aerial view of the Galeao international airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Daniel Basil / Associated Press/Portal da Copa 2014