A journey through time

A long-awaited project at the SATA Group has finally begun. 

The SATA Group’s documentary collection was hand-delivered to the Public Library and Regional Archive of Ponta Delgada. There would be no better destination for this history, which in August 2021 will be 80 years old.

One day after the signing of the cooperation protocol between the SATA Group and the Public Library and Regional Archive of Ponta Delgada (BPARPD), the documents that tell the story of the SATA Group, kept for generations, began to be transferred to the head office of the Regional Archive. 

It has become very evident to everyone how important this step is for the present but first for the future of our collective memory. 

“Those who do not take care of their past cannot guarantee anything good for their future,” as Luís Rodrigues, Chairman of the SATA Group, summed upon this occasion, before entrusting BPARPD with the documentary collection of the companies he manages. It was more than a symbolic occasion: it was a relevant moment in the history of SATA and commercial aviation in the Azores. 

To understand some of the significance that this step has for all those who have worked for decades to keep the airline’s collective memory alive, follow us on this short journey and get a better understanding of why we say with satisfaction and recognition that now, finally, SATA’s history has found the right destination.

“WITHOUT ARCHIVES, THERE IS NO HISTORY!”  

This statement is not ours. It is from Fátima Sequeira Dias, a professor who, in 1987, authored and was responsible for the research required for the publication of Diário de Navegação, Commemorative Edition of the 50th anniversary of SATA’s first commercial flight. A book that recounts the first fifty years of flights by SATA Air Açores and which, in addition to being a work of historical character, is a work one would like to re-read. But amid the author’s considerations about the importance of preserving documents over the years, Fátima Sequeira Dias left us a message: 

“… The effort and perseverance of those who “hid”, kept and preserved the supposedly worthless old papers in an attempt to preserve SATA’s memory is to be praised. Because without archives, there is no history.

Years later, Ermelindo Peixoto, Professor at the University of the Azores and author of the book commemorating SATA’s 65th anniversary, revisited the subject and confessed how difficult it was to retrieve the correct chronology of events from the thousands of documents he kept to give continuity to his predecessor’s work: 

“As with a previous project on SATA’s history, we were faced with the impossibility of compiling the collection that makes up the company’s so-called dead archive due to its size and the non-existence of any system for cataloging the thousands of documents in storage.”

Given these testimonies, and considering the extent of the archive, it will be easy to understand the sense of mission accomplished, knowing that, from now on, the collective memory of the SATA Group, which belongs to us and all Azoreans, will now be properly treated and will finally be more accessible to all those who wish to consult it.

On June 8, 2021, the cooperation agreement between the SATA Group and BPARPD was signed at BPARPD by Madalena San-Bento, Director of BPARPD, and Luís Rodrigues, Chairman of the SATA Group.

Where does our journey begin?

The journey starts at the SATA Group’s head office building, which houses the business group’s administrative areas. The documents considered relevant have been stored there over generations and successive administrations. 

The place where the archive was kept was never the most adequate, but it was the most feasible; 

SATA’s employees were not technical archivists, but over eight decades, they did the best they could.

The first step: technical stopover in the purge chamber

Well, it is thanks to those who have cared and those who continue to care for the memories of the SATA Group that it has been possible to reach the present day with thousands of documents to be transferred, including the first set of 11 boxes that went to the BPARPD on the morning of June 9, 2021.
We will call this operation (using aviation jargon) a technical stopover, but for the BPARPD archival technicians, it is a stay in the purge chamber. It is where the documents will be transferred to and where they will rest for approximately three weeks. It is a sealed chamber where decontamination takes place through an anoxic process.

And after the long stay…

The documents are handed over to archival and restoration technicians, archivists, and conservators. Here they are treated with care and affection. They are dusted off and thoroughly analyzed. The erosion of time is unforgiving. Humidity, microorganisms, fungi, and insects cause the paper to deteriorate. In some cases, it will be necessary to proceed with its restoration. For example, leather and parchment wrinkle over time and tear, a paper may turn to dust, and inks may need to be restored in intensity and color. It is a technical job that requires knowledge and devotion. It is not for everyone or just anyone and is now in the trained hands of BPARPD’s skilled technicians.  

Analyze, understand and classify  

If the goal is to make this collection accessible for public consultation, then the description of the documents is a very significant step. The sorting is done by year and by type of document. To know how to describe it is necessary to identify the content. It is more a work of thoroughness and persistence. It requires patience, knowledge, and time. There are more than sixty years of documents, books, reports, minutes, flight books, reports, and more. Sorting out the type, date, and location will be crucial.

How happy Fátima Sequeira Dias and Ermelindo Peixoto would have been if they had had the opportunity to prepare, under these conditions, the works that gave birth, with such persistence, to these two historical volumes that they have left for posterity. How fortunate for other historians, students, aviation, and Azorean history lovers to know that, from now on, they will have easier access to so much history.

Preserving to subsequently share with the community: this is the goal.

It is the most vivid and reliable memory of the history of civil aviation in the Archipelago of the Azores and, therefore, it is an archive of unique interest for the history of the Azores. “This immense testimony to the importance of the Azores as a stopover for aircraft from around the world in the 20th century Atlantic crossing, as well as all the implications for the collective memory that the company’s collection, composed of a wide variety of documents, may bring from now on, justifies BPARPD’s absolute commitment to this task,” said Madalena San-Bento, BPARPD Director, at the protocol signing ceremony. And it is just because there are wills and determination like this that we got this far. Without an archive, there is no history, that’s for sure, and without the commitment of those who try to preserve it, there is no collective memory that survives the passage of time. 

Destination: At the top of the archive tower, as close as possible to the sky!

The SATA Group’s documental collection will rest on the top floor of the seven-story BPARPD tower.  No one would have guessed that concealed inside the old Jesuit College in Ponta Delgada is a recently built tower, discreet and almost unnoticeable to passers-by, which houses a significant part of the history of the Azores Archipelago.

Not far from the shelves that hold SATA’s collection are the stored memories of extraordinary contributions. Teófilo Braga, José do Canto; Ernesto do Canto; the royal counselor Hintze Ribeiro; Antero de Quental, Natália Correia, among so many other unavoidable names, in a collection of absolutely incredible documents. Given this rich, diverse, and distinct reality, there would certainly not be a more appropriate destination for the SATA Group’s documental collection.

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