BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian aviation regulator ANAC said on Thursday it will likely grant airlines' requests to add 1,973 new flights to deal with the demand expected during World Cup soccer matches in June and July.
Although the expansion in flights and routes represents only 1 percent of the existing system in Brazil, the number of requests exceeded the roughly 1,500 new flights that had previously been expected.
"We will grant all the requests. The system has the capacity to handle those new flights," ANAC's head, Marcelo Guaranys, told reporters in Brasilia.
The new flights should help contain the rise in air fares for which carriers have come under scrutiny recently. Airlines Azul and Avianca Brasil pledged earlier this month to cap domestic prices at 999 reais ($420).
Brazil's two biggest carriers, Gol Linhas Aereas and TAM, the local unit of Chile's Latam Airlines Group, came under fire last year when the government noticed ticket prices soaring during the World Cup.
Brazil's biggest airlines have been cutting routes, giving back aircraft and firing flight staff over the past two years to restore profits amid high fuel prices and a deteriorating exchange rate.
The local aviation industry is under pressure as one of the biggest potential embarrassments at the World Cup. The dozen host cities where games will be played are scattered around a country the size of the continental United States, which will force some 3.6 million fans through a series of overloaded airports.
U.S. fans, who have one of the more grueling itineraries, will have to book at least 3,500 miles in domestic flights between their team's first three matches in Brazil - to say nothing of the long international legs to arrive in the South American nation.
ANAC said the legs that will receive the greatest number of new flights were Guarulhos, Sao Paulo-Fortaleza, Ceara; Santos Dumont, Rio de Janeiro-Viracopos, Sao Paulo; Galeao, Rio de Janeiro-Aeroparque, Argentina; Brasilia- Guarulhos; and Galeao-Ezeiza, Argentina.
ANAC said it expected the airlines to return to their normal number of flights once the World Cup was over.
(Reporting by Leonardo Goy; Writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)