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Lisbon Aviation

Above: TAP Airbus 319, CS-TTN at Lisbon Airport, June 2012.

TAP Airbus 330 Neo (CS-TUA).

Copyright: ©

Aviation in Lisbon: the Airport and Airlines

1 July 2019

Lisbon Airport: Present and Future


Officially the airport is known as Aeroporto Humberto Delgado, named after a figure who opposed the Salazar dictatorship which ran Portugal for decades up to the Revoultion of 1974.


Lisbon's international airport is situated at Portela de Sacavém, only 7km to the north east of the city centre. Indeed, the proximity of the airfield to the city is such that aircraft on final approach from the south-west inappropriately pass over a large hospital, several schools and the National Library's main reading room. It opened on 15 October, 1942, with four 1,000 metre runways.

By 1954, 100,000 passengers a year were handled, 1,021,814 passed through by 1965 and 2,239,228 by 1970 when there were 34,392 movements. 1978 saw 3,168,595 passengers handled with 38,912 aircraft movements, whilst 1988 saw 4,283,545 passengers and 1990 witnessed 5,282,349.

It is the eighteenth largest airport in Europe as regards passenger numbers, handling 13 million passengers by 2009, more than twenty million passengers in 2015, and just over 29 million in 2018.

The first jet service was an Air France Caravelle in 1960 and new Jumbo facilities were installed in 1972.

As debate about the airport's future continued, a new Terminal 2 was opened in August 2007 and the older terminal (now numbered 1) acquired some further boarding gates in 2011. The link to the city's Metro system came into operation in July 2012, on the Red Line.

Terminal 2 handles budget airlines' European flights, although easyJet, with its own base at the sirport, utilizes Terminal 1.

Further expansion of passenger facilities took place in 2013-15 in Terminal 1.

The airport, which lies at 114 metres above sea-level, occupies a site of approximately 320ha.

Portela airport has two main runways (03/21 of 3,802 metres, opened in 1962 at 3,130 metres in length, and 17/35 of 2,400 metres). Radio frequencies are 120.6 (approach), 118.1 (tower) and 121.75 (ground). ANA (Aeroportos e Navegação Aérea, founded in 1978, was the operator of the airport but this is now Vinci. Lisbon Airport has arrival/departure information on its website. The airport's postal address is Alameda das Comunidades Portuguesas, 1700-007, Lisboa, Portugal.

Left to right: Lisbon Airport: a Portugália Fokker 100; an Aeroflot Tupolev 154 at Lisbon Airport, 26 April 1999; Islandsflug Airbus, July 2003.

Getting to/from the Airport


An Aero Bus service is run by Carris. In 2019 it had three routes:


Lisbon taxis are plentiful and relatively cheap though charges are rising. There is railed taxi-rank immediately outside the arrivals hall; it is usually overseen by a police/ security man. Although queues can be lengthy, the taxis are so plentiful that the waiting time is generally short. A few taxis are painted black with a turquoise-green roof, whilst newer vehicles are all-over caramel. All bear a small white lozenge with the word TAXI in black capital letters. Extra is charged for luggage. For further fares information, see the Lisbon Taxis page.

L to R: Inside Lisbon Airport, 1999; aerial view of the airport c1980; aerial view 1999 with the Vasco da Gama bridge in the distance. Click on images for enlargements.

This Zaire Air Force Boeing 707 was impounded at Lisbon airport and remained on the tarmac for several years but was moved c.2006.


A Red Line Metro connection to the airport was opened in July 2012 and provides the quickest and cheapest way to get to the city centre.Ticket machines which have instructions available in English are in the station atrium, just yards from Terminal 1. In the city the Red Line terminates at São Sebastião. Services start at 0630 hours (2013) and the terminus at the airport is adjacent to terminal 1. A shuttle bus journey is needed to connect to the Metro from Terminal 2.

Car Parks

Car parks include the following numbered facilities:
  • "P1" - an underground carpark, adjacent to the terminals.
  • "P2" - a covered "silo" carpark.
  • "P3" - uncovered near Avenida de Berlim.
  • "P4" and "P5" - on the airport periphery.
  • There is also a tourist bus park for coaches near the terminal building.

    Plans for a New Airport

    Lisbon Airport had been expected to reach capacity by 2010 and to avoid displacing some 10,000 people there was a plan to create a new airport rather than further expand Portela. At that time, the favoured site for the proposed new airport was 50km north of Lisbon at Ota, near Abrantes, (see below). However, this remained a pipedream and has been supplanted by later ideas...

    Indeed, talk of a new airport goes back decades. As far back as 1969 plans were afoot to replace Portela airport with a new one at Rio Frio, which lies 42km from Lisbon, across the Tagus, only 15km from Setúbal. By 1972, however, it had been decided to divert resources into developing Portela to the detriment of Rio Frio. A 1982 study identified other possible sites for a new airport at Santa Cruz, Azambuja, Alverca, Granja (Sintra), Tires, Ota, Porto Alto and Marateca.

    By 1994 the choice had been narrowed down to Ota, 45km north of Lisbon, Rio Frio and the airforce base of Montijo, on the south-bank of the River Tagus, opposite Lisbon.

    In 1998 NAER (Novo Aeroporto S.A.) was set up within the Portuguese Ministry of Equipment, Planning and Administration (MEPAT) to coordinate the planning of a new airport. NAER, which has its own website, employed Aéroports de Paris as consultants to report on the plans. Not altogether surprisingly, their report favoured a new airport rather than the option of developing Portela further.

    After more prevarication, in January 2019 it was announced that the Portuguese government and the current Lisbon airport operator, Vinci, had agreed both to expand the capacity of the exisiting airport and to create a new airport at Montijo, across the river Tagus, where there has been a longstanding Portuguese Air Force airbase. Compennsation will be paud to the Air Force if this project materializes.

    Depending on their flightpath, civil aircraft landing or taking off from Portela sometimes afford passengers an excellent view of the exisitn Montijo air-force airfield. As shown below, the airfield is conveniently situated near the eastern end of the Vasco da Gama bridge, which runs, in a leftwards direction in the image, to Lisbon.

    Allegedly, to have developed Portela further would have entailed closing one of the current runways and building a new one, parallel to the existing runway. Parking space for aircraft would also have had to be increased, and a new terminal built. The costs of such a plan in financial, social and environmental terms would be enormous.

    Each of the three main rival sites for the new airport had its pros and cons. Montijo could be built on the established military airfield and would regenerate the south bank of the Tagus, whilst Rio Frio shared the latter advantage but also is close to Pinhal Novo and would have good rail and road connections. However, both of these south-bank sites would place huge pressures on the fixed links, the 25th April and the Vasco da Gama bridges. Those in favour of Montijo argued that charter flights and cargo aircraft could be routed there, leaving scheduled passenger flights at Portela with increased spare capacity for growth of services.

    Ota, which lies near the town of Abrantes, north-east of Lisbon, had the support of various local interests in towns such as Leiria and even Coimbra. Until 1992 there was an active airforce base at Ota but its runway could not be developed for a civil airport. As at Rio Frio, there would be significant forced movement of population to accommodate a new airport, and major road and rail infrastructural work would also be needed. Noise and environmental issues also loom large at the new sites. Portela was scheduled to handle its maximum capacity of 20 million passengers sometime before 2012; Ota was planned to open by 2008. But as early as January 2001, the bidding process was in a state of disarray, with accusations of changes in the criteria being levelled at NAER the new airport's coordinating body and Portela's future looked secure for years to come - as has transpired. Again, in summer 2007 there was much debate about a new airport with options even including a "Portela+2" scheme involving retaining the current Portela airport and developing two other sites such as Sintra and Alverca, north of Lisbon.

    L to R: A Lufthansa Airbus at Portela airport, 2003; inside the airport terminal, July 2000.

    But on 10 January 2008, following a further study the year before, Alcochete, currently a military base was selected as the new airport site, subject to public consultation. Alcochete lies on the south bank of the Tagus, 60km from Lisbon. The plan was for a branch of the new Lisbon-Madrid rail link to be constructed to serve the new airport. It was planned that Oporto to Lisbon train services would eventually terminate at the new airport, using a proposed Chelas (Lisbon) to Barreiro bridge across the Tagus.

    Air Services

    Destinations from Lisbon in the Lusophone world include Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Natal, São Paulo (in Brazil), Maputo (in Mozambique), Luanda (in Angola), Bissau (Guiné-Bissau), Ponta Delgada (Azores) and Funchal (Madeira). Internal destinations are Oporto (Porto) and Faro.

    Left: Air Portugal Airbus behind a BA Airbus at Lisbon Airport, 2003. Right: A Brazilian Super Constellation at Lisbon Airport in the 1950s.

    Airlines Using Lisbon Airport

    Amongst the Portuguese operators to be seen at Portela Airport are TAP- Air Portugal, Portugália, Azores (SATA) and Euro-Atlantic Airways (formerly Air Zarco). Other airlines using the airport regularly in 2019 include Aegean, Aeroflot, Aigle Azur, Air Baltic, Air China, Air France, Air India, Air Serbia, Alitalia, American, Atlas Global, Austrian, Azul, British Airways, Brussels, China Southern, Croatia, Delta, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Eurowings, Finnair, Iberia, Japan, KLM, Korean, Lufthansa, Egyptair, Ethiopian, Turkish, Qatar, Royal Air Maroc, Ryanair, SAS, Saudia, Singapore,Swiftair, TAROM, Thai United, Transavia, Wizz Air.

    L to R: A PGA Fokker 100 at Lisbon Airport, 1999; Air Portugal and SATA (Azores) airbuses on the apron, 2003.

    Further Reading

  • Aeroportos e Navegação Aérea, Lisbon Airport, 1942-1992. Lisboa: Inapa/ANA, 1992. 189p.
    A celebration of Portela de Sacavém airport, Lisbon, on its 50th anniversary. This is a well-illustrated volume produced by ANA, the Airport's operator. ANA also produce a regular glossy newspaper in English and Portuguese, called Imagem and available free at the airport.
  • Airliner World May 2001 issue had an article on Lisbon Portela airport, pp.36-40.
  • N.C. Baldwin, The Lisbon story. Sutton Coldfield: The Aero Field, 1965. 10pp.
    An account of aviation in Lisbon from 1922, when Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho flew from Belém to Brazil, up to 1968 when flying-boat services from Madeira to Lisbon ceased.

    General Aviation Links

  • Aerotransport is a superb site with updated fleet details for all airlines.

    Contact: the following is not a link; please transcribe the address into your email