From running mercy flights for volcano survivors in the 1950s to transporting today’s Portuguese football stars, the Azores’ airline SATA has soared above its island birthplace.
In service since 1947, when it flew passengers on a Beechcraft UC-45B Expeditor, Portugal’s SATA is the local people-mover in the Azorean archipelago, a chain of volcanic islands located 1,500km west of Lisbon in the north Atlantic.
In 1958, the company passed its first major test with high marks after coming to the rescue of islanders who had to escape and resettle in North America after a series of eruptions by the Capelinhos volcano that destroyed homes and property on the island of Faial. In 1963, the airline added a DC-3, bought from Aer Lingus, to its fleet and in 1968 started to hire flight attendants to boost service.
When a revolution toppled the dictatorship on the mainland in 1974, SATA workers were quickly unionised. After three decades of flying, SATA transported its millionth passenger – today, it moves the same number of travellers in less than a year. Expansion took off in the 1990s when the firm began international charters. Now the airline links locals living on the nine major islands with Bombardier turboprops operated by its SATA Air Açores unit, while emigrants and tourists are shuttled aboard the all-Airbus fleet of SATA Internacional, which handles flights between João Paulo II Airport on São Miguel and destinations as far away as Oakland on the US West Coast.
Like its emblem, an angular bird of prey (the goshawk) depicted on the Azorean flag, SATA has been eyeing opportunities for growth. These include increasing its presence on Madeira to court fellow islanders, and transporting the Portuguese presidential entourage on state visits and the country’s top football clubs to away matches in Europe.
Fleet: 4 Bombardier Q400 NextGen, 2 Q200, 4 Airbus 320, 4 Airbus 310.
Number of passengers: 500,000 (SATA Air Açores); 900,000 (SATA Internacional).
Uniforms: Made with Portuguese cotton. Stewardesses wear three-button navy jackets with sky-blue lapel trim, and a navy skirt.
Catering: Local drinks and pastries are served, including Azorean black tea, Kima Maracujá (a fizzy passion-fruit drink), and queijada da Vila tarts from São Miguel Island.
In-flight entertainment: “Azorean Spirit” is SATA’s bimonthly in-flight read. Business passengers are supplied with dailies from the islands, as well as from mainland Portugal.