Threshold Review: Paulo Ricardo’s Congonhas Airport for MSFS
October 17, 2023
São Paulo/Congonhas - Deputado Freitas Nobre Airport (SBSP) is the second oldest airport serving the city of São Paulo. Initially planned in 1919 (which would have made it São Paulo's oldest airport), construction work only started close to its official opening in April 1936. Nowadays, it's the second busiest airport in Brazil by passenger traffic, with a yearly average of 18 million passengers. Figures could have been even more significant if not for a slot restriction limiting the operations to 30 aircraft an hour.
Congonhas started as an airline-owned alternate airport to Campo de Marte, already suffering from operational difficulties in the mid-1930s. VASP, the owner, started a daily service to Rio de Janeiro, with around 1 hour and 30 minutes of flight time twice a day. Little did they know that one route would eventually become one of the world's busiest over the years.
By the 1950s, Congonhas was serving all international flights to and from São Paulo, something that was still possible back then because most airliners were rather small and did not require long runways: Lockheed Constellations, DC-6s, DC-7s, and so on. With the advent of jet airlines a decade later, airlines were forced to move to Viracopos Airport, an airport in Campinas, 95 kilometers away from São Paulo.
While the international traffic was gone "forever," the domestic figures were growing higher and higher, especially after an agreement between Varig, Cruzeiro do Sul, and VASP that created the shuttle service between Congonhas and Rio de Janeiro - Santos Dumont Airport, with regular departures every 30 minutes, with simplified tickets and formalities, considerably speeding up the process and making it even more convenient than it already was (Congonhas is a super convenient airport due to its location right in the heart of São Paulo, and the same applies to Santos Dumont in Rio, which the locals prefer despite its very short runway and very tricky arrivals). The shuttle agreement was so successful that Transbrasil also hopped on board in 1968, and the whole ordeal only ended in 1999, after the weakened economy of the mid to late 90s forced most of the agreement members to operate individually while they still could. By 2009, all original member airlines were no longer in business.
It was the undisputed domestic airport in São Paulo up until 1985, when the construction of Guarulhos Airport (SBGR) changed everything, quite literally: while Congonhas didn't get much international traffic anymore other than flights from other South American countries, tourists would generally fly to Rio de Janeiro (Galeão) and then take the shuttle to CGH because Viracopos (SBKP) was too far away and highly inconvenient. With Guarulhos being a thing, there was no need for that anymore, affecting both Congonhas and Viracopos. Ironically enough, tourists now do it the other way around, flying to Guarulhos, now the busiest airport in Brazil, and then taking the shuttle to Rio de Janeiro - Santos Dumont, as Rio's Galeão is deemed very unsafe.
While the advent of Guarulhos alleviated things a little, Congonhas remained the most convenient airport for locals due to its proximity to the city's heart, making it a favorite among businessmen who need to get around quickly. Congestion was still a problem, leading Infraero to remodel the airport in 2003, installing 12 jetways and revamping the terminal.
Even though there was almost no urban development when the airport was constructed, it went on to become a victim of its success, and the city's, to an extent, with massive urban development all around it, making it so the airplanes have to fly relatively close to many apartment buildings when flying into runway 17R. With no room to grow and continually operating at capacity, it was only a matter of time until something went wrong, and it did. In June 2007, a TAM A320 (flight JJ3054) overran the runway, crashing into a TAM building across the road, killing everyone onboard and employees inside at the time of the accident. It was a combination of pilot error, an inoperative reverser, and a fresh runway that didn't drain water properly. To this day, it's still Brazil's deadliest air crash. The accident led the administration (Infraero) to take many safety measures, such as adding a gross weight limit and shortening the operating hours. The aforementioned A320 and the Boeing 738 are now the largest aircraft allowed to operate in Congonhas.
A year after the accident, it also lost its international category, which would probably happen regardless, as there wasn't a lot of international action to speak of anyway. With the new size and weight restrictions, it went from rare to straight-up impossible.
It was upgraded for the last time in 2009 when Infraero invested $86 million into building a new control tower, renovating the apron, and finishing the terminal's renovation process.
Today (17/10), AENA is now in charge of Congonhas after winning a 30-year concession bid in August 2022. The Spanish consortium has committed to expanding the airport with a new terminal and modernizing what is already there. Work begins in mid-2024, with a conclusion scheduled for 2028. The plan aims to add eight new jetways, bringing the total to 20.
It's currently served by Azul Brazilian Airlines, Azul Conecta, GOL Transportes Aéreos, LATAM Brasil, and Voepass Linhas Aéreas.
Paulo Ricardo's rendition of Congonhas Airport aims to deliver an authentic and immersive experience of flying into one of the most challenging airports in Brazil, with custom ground textures, an accurate replica of the main passenger terminal, custom jetways, an up-to-date ground layout, custom ground clutter, landside buildings, maintenance hangars, hundreds of hand-placed buildings and landmarks, and much more.
The scenery is distributed via Marketplace, making the installation process as easy as clicking "Buy & Install."
For the first time ever, I did not fly into the subject matter. Not because I was lazy, but it just so happened that that's where I was, at least virtually: coincidentally enough, I was checking out ZOFFY's freeware SBSP a day before, completely unaware that Paulo's version was about to release, catching me entirely off guard. As a fellow Brazilian, I did the logical thing and bought it right away. It's funny how, until a couple of months ago, Microsoft Flight Simulator didn't have a proper Congonhas to speak of, and now we have two.
While ZOFFY's work is quite formidable, Paulo Ricardo took the Congonhas experience to the next level in every regard, with a degree of accuracy that I had already seen from him on Santos Dumont (SBRJ) and Viracopos (SBKP): the airside experience is nothing short of impressive. Parked on stand 10, I couldn't help but marvel at the incredible detail on the terminal right in front of me: worn-out, moldy concrete, just like the real thing! Trash cans, drinking fountains, benches, multiple warning signs, air conditioning units, ducts, and many other little things that scream Brazilian airport to everyone who has ever been to a Brazilian airport.
And that attention to detail is not restricted to the passenger terminal: the maintenance hangars (which will soon be demolished to make room for a new terminal) also look equally impressive. The same applies to the general aviation area on the other side of the airport.
Due to the unusual approach to this specific review (loading right in instead of flying into the airport), I had plenty of time to move around the scenery while my passengers boarded the ship for a short hop, as I wanted to test the ILS as well on the way back.
Not an inch of the airport was left out of this rendition, whether air or landside. That was already expected from Paulo Ricardo due to what he's done for Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Prepar3d, X-Plane 11, and now Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Modeling / Texturing
The models and textures utilized on the airport and its immediate surroundings are good. With lots of weathering, wear, and tear, essential elements to make Congonhas look like Congonhas. It is old and moldy in real life, and one would expect its virtual counterpart to look the same. It's not the most charming thing, but reality is often disappointing.
Most, if not all warning signs, stickers, logos, and so on are fully readable and sharp, be it on the airside or inside the terminal, which adds up a lot to the immersion factor. While the terminal interior is not as detailed as his previous work (Viracopos), it's still impressively good and close to the industry standard, providing an acceptable representation of how things are laid out inside and allowing for great "boarding" screenshots, as seen below.
The custom jetways were reproduced exceptionally accurately, and you can even read the stickers on its interior. The whole trajectory from the terminal to the aircraft can be replicated pretty much verbatim compared to real life. I watched a few real-life flight logs to make sure, and surely enough, even the placement of the stickers was perfect.
The detail bar remains high when one wanders off to the hangars, with static aircraft undergoing their check-ups, busy shelves filled to the brim with boxes, many static executive planes around the executive area, and a consistency factor that does not seem to plunge regardless of how far you are from the passenger terminal, warranting eye candy even when you are not boarding/deboarding.
The same can not be said about the many hand-placed buildings surrounding the airport, which look a bit dated, especially under low-light conditions. They were probably reutilized from previous iterations of his work, but that does not apply to the airport itself. Then again, they are mostly there for composition, as it would feel weird to fly into a Congonhas devoid of its "human-made geography," which makes it way scarier than it should be. So, while the logos on the buildings are a little bit blurry, at the end of the day, they still look great from afar, and you won't be flying too close with an airliner, anyway. The hand-placed buildings also make for an authentic background instead of an ocean of Asobo-generated stuff that does not quite match the real deal.
While the passenger terminal, maintenance hangars, and cargo hangars have a fully modeled interior, the control tower and some of the least important buildings are entirely flat, with window textures on them instead of parallax shenanigans to at least make it look like it has an interior. While it's hard to notice that during daytime, it becomes a bit evident at night.
On that texture note, at the time of writing this review, there was an issue with the apron textures for some users (myself included), which was already fixed and submitted to Microsoft for approval, according to the author.
Aside from the aforementioned issue, the ground textures are sharp and accurate to their real-world counterpart. The same applies to all the taxiway signage across the scenery.
Overall, the night lighting across the airport - especially around the terminal - is pretty decent, casting the right amount of light without feeling unrealistic, with huge props to the "orange-y" reflectors that have certainly seen lots of work for decades on end. Just what you would expect to see at such an old, formerly government-run airport.
The only exception applies to some hangars, where the lighting does not cast properly on the metal surfaces, making it look creepy. But other than that, everywhere else shines, emphasizing the older, slightly faded reflectors.
The interior lighting on both floors is just as good, looking very natural all across the board. It sets the mood for role-playing a passenger waiting for their delayed flight.
Test System: 32 GB RAM, Ryzen 7 3700X, Nvidia RTX 3080 10 GB, 1 TB SSD (non-NVMe).
One would think a scenery packing so much detail and so many hand-placed buildings would perform terribly, but it somehow does not. With my graphics card set at a 60% power threshold because of the slightly aggressive heat as of late, there was not a single frame drop aside from the occasional asset-loading micro stutter when switching to the drone camera.
On the other hand, the RAM usage is on the high side, hovering around 21-23 GB with just Microsoft Flight Simulator, Discord, Chrome (Gmail, Simbrief, and Metar-taf), and Volanta open. As I only have this system to test, I'm unsure how it scales on machines with 16 GB of RAM or less.
The fluidity overall is solid, with no sudden GPU spikes when looking toward a specific area, meaning the author has done a lot of LOD work to ensure maximum consistency.
Paulo's Congonhas does not disappoint. While it has minor flaws, it does not take away from the fact it is, in fact, the most detailed SBSP ever made for a simulator, regardless of platform. While the landside experience is not outstanding by current standards, the airside is nearly impeccable, providing a very immersive experience from the cockpit. It's hard not to feel like you are actually in Congonhas, especially if you are familiar with the airport.
Historically, the fact that we now have a Congonhas Airport that looks and feels like Congonhas is a huge achievement, considering the previously available stuff. For Brazilian flight simmers like myself, it's the realization of a dream. I will be flying in and out of this scenery for years.
For $16.99, it's hard not to recommend it. Even if it were just Congonhas itself, it's rather fair for the amount of detail packed in, but you also get most of São Paulo in the form of hand-placed buildings and landmarks.
After three long years, Microsoft Flight Simulator pilots can finally - accurately - experience the thrill of flying into one of Brazil's most challenging airports.
Share this page
Threshold encourages informed discussion and debate - though this can only happen if all commenters remain civil when voicing their opinions.