Getting to see the caves of Benagil, the Sagres Fortress, or the Vicentine Coast from an altitude of 1,000 feet (around 300 metres), aboard a small single-engine aircraft, is something you can experience if you visit the Portimão Municipal Aerodrome.
“The correct term is ‘scenic flights’,” explains João Lopes, head of aviation operations in the Algarve for Sevenair, the largest general aviation company in Portugal and one of the largest in Europe. “We also do these scenic flights in Lisbon, from our Cascais base, but here they really are something else.”
“In legal terms, passengers are called ‘task specialists’. We have two different target markets – people between the ages of 30 and 45 who want to go on an adventure, or those looking for a romantic experience such as flying at sunset. We also have many foreign residents who want to get to know the Algarve from a different perspective, sometimes even to take their visiting friends on an adventure,” he explains. “We offer specific routes at set prices. However, flights can also be customised.”
The company began operations in Alvor back in 2002. “It started as a hangar for private planes. Then, we began to invest in aerial advertising. Later, and due to demand, we started doing scenic flights. Skydiving appeared in 2014”, and became their core business. In 2018, the company acquired an Extra 300 XL aerobatics plane, being the only licensed company in Portugal in this field. “We have allocated a Pilatus Porter for parachuting, a Cessna 152 to rent to pilots who need flight hours or who come to try it out with one of our instructors, and two Cessna 172, which are the planes we use for both the tourist flights and advertising. Our company fleet includes many other planes that we allocate according to our needs,” he explains.
The scenic flights are under the ‘Air Emotions’ banner. “If we consider the people that visit the region, I can easily say that tourist flights are more popular in the low season. Tourists visit the region looking for something different. However, this service isn’t as popular yet as skydiving,” states João Lopes.
So, how does it work? “We accept bookings up to 24 hours in advance or based on availability. It often happens that people will stop by and ask if they can fly right there and then. Sometimes, planes are busy, and the timing doesn’t coincide with people’s availability. But we always have a pilot on base and a second one on call.”
One of them is Pedro Rebelo. At 23 years old and with around 300 flight hours, he started working for the company earlier this year, as soon as he finished his course in Ponte de Sor. Before that, he took the tests for the Portuguese Air Force and even pursued Engineering at university, but the dream of flying spoke louder.
He is the one pushing for this niche market and assures that his schedule is full for the peak summer season. “I want sightseeing to be a big part of my occupation. The experience of a private flight is amazing. I take three people at most, one next to me and two in the back seat. On average, people buy a 30-minute flight, but they end up enjoying it so much that they buy more time. I think one hour is enough,” he reveals.
“Flying in the morning is more comfortable as there is always some wind in the afternoon. But we are well acquainted with the landings. During winter, conditions are always a little more unstable, but we explain to people what turbulence is and, when they are sat alongside the pilot, they understand that it really is nothing to worry about.”
The pilot explains that when he lands in Portimão, the wind is usually blowing cross or north-westerly. “We usually take off towards Lagos just over the Ria de Alvor. Or westwards over Portimão, and at 500 feet over the Arade, we can turn towards Sagres or head for Carvoeiro. The farthest we usually go is Albufeira. Flying further east doesn’t happen very often because of the traffic at Faro Airport. But we can also head towards the interior of the Algarve,” he explains.
What if the fear of flying takes over in actual flight? “The aircraft we use is quite powerful for this task. Sometimes I have to reduce its power, otherwise it starts going too fast for the scenic flight. These planes are very safe and are very well maintained, especially because they are also used in our aerial advertising. If something goes wrong, we always have to keep our training in mind,” says Pedro Rebelo.
For the time being, the pilot is not considering moving to an airline, as his passion for this style of aviation is evident. “I am Algarvian, I like living here and I enjoy this kind of aviation. It is all very dynamic. In London, I went for a job interview at Nordica and got the job, but I would have to go and live in Scandinavia. So, I emailed this company, explained my intentions and they offered me this opportunity. I am happy here.”
Stay up to date with: