For the Azores, we fly as far as it takes

There’s always backstage work to be done before any SATA | Azores Airlines flight takes off. It has been the case since 1947. But these days, against the background of a pandemic, work on the ground and in the air has intensified. That’s why, amongst other reasons of the heart, our mission to China took such a special significance.

We share yet another beautiful story with you who have been a loyal follower, that has filled us with pride and only reinforced our passion for flying and the Azores.

The preparation of a flight is never done at the drop of a hat, but it is inevitable that when the routine settles in, and it is necessary to prepare more than a hundred daily flights, the work of the Back Office teams, whether commercial or operational, ends up being diluted in the face of what matters most: taking off and landing safely, on time, fulfilling what is expected of us.

But since the skies of Europe and the world have closed, the life of the airlines has changed. And at SATA | Azores Airlines, it was no different. In a first stage, it was necessary to reduce the operation gradually and accommodate passengers; in a second stage, it was required to close the commercial operation; in a third stage, it was imperative to mount a cargo operation. The flight to China is in this third stage: cargo flights operated to ensure the transport of essential goods to the Azorean Archipelago. It is a team effort in which the two carriers complete each other more than ever and which has been going on uninterruptedly since March 19, 2020. 


An ad hoc air operation, such as the cargo operation between China and Ponta Delgada, has always left the routine record of SATA|Azores Airlines operations. However, in times of pandemic, it required additional preparation work, given the restrictions imposed by the States and the permanent change of the same. It is what happened with the operation to China. The rules changed midway through the process, and it was necessary to mobilize efforts and involve various entities from different countries. It is no overstatement to say that, in the three days leading up to this operation, the operational areas that carried out the air operation worked against the clock and without understanding at what point the day ended and night began.

Teamwork, carried out on a time basis, without looking at the hours, but with the aim at one single goal: to bring a shipment of hospital material to the Autonomous Region of the Azores.

While the aircraft was being prepared following the recommendations issued by the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency), the flight crew and the support team accompanying the cockpit crew and cabin crew were summoned. Eleven members said “present” and volunteered for this mission: six pilots, one flight attendant, two Loadmasters, two Aircraft Maintenance Technicians. Being a long flight with one stop on the way out and two on the way back, crew redundancy was necessary.  The presence of a cabin crew member was also needed for safety reasons and to safeguard first aid and safety procedures. In addition to the flight crew, two Loadmasters (technicians specialized in aircraft loading) and two aircraft maintenance technicians were on board in case there was the need for Maintenance and Engineering intervention during the mission.

The flight took off at 3 pm Lisbon time, having made a technical stop in Novosibirsk (Siberia), an airport located at the confluence of routes and much demanded by airlines wishing to reach East Asia. It was from this point that, at around 5 am, gifted by the inarable beauty of the birth of a new day, SATA | Azores Airlines headed to Shanghai. 

Upon arrival at Pudong Airport, the plane was loaded, with the extraordinary support of the local handling agents and with the supervision of the deployed SATA | Azores Airlines team. Three hours and twenty minutes later, the CS-TSF plane was airborne again and thus began the long journey home.

It is a fact that the Airbus A321 Neo, being a short- and medium-haul aircraft, has no range to cross from one side of the globe to the other. However, it has undoubtedly proved to be versatile enough to cope with contingencies of this nature. With work and goodwill, there is nothing that cannot be done. Here is an old motto that is as timeless as it is true.

The return to Lisbon took place at 1:57 (local time), with the plane staying overnight at Humberto Delgado Airport. As the cargo was too precious, the aircraft’s hold was sealed until the next day, when another crew, this time more reduced, boarded for the last leg of this mission, a Lisbon / Ponta Delgada, which would land at the João Paulo II airport around 12:20 pm on April 13. It took about 3 hours to unload about 900 volumes, containing 22,400 filtered respiratory protection masks, 240,000 surgical masks, 300,000 gloves, 33,500 disposable glasses, and 20,300 protective gowns.

After landing, the volumes were sorted and separated so that they can now be distributed, with the help of SATA Air Açores’ wings, to the remaining islands of the Archipelago.

If there are times when we are proud to belong to such a unique air transport group, this will undoubtedly be one of them. We went to China for the Azores, and we will do everything we can to ensure that nothing lacks the Archipelago that saw us born and grow. It is our mission and a real privilege.

# Voamos juntos