A TAM Airbus A330 and A320 get worked on at the MRO

A TAM Airbus A330 and A320 get worked on at the MRO

The location of TAM Airlines’ Maintenance Operation Center (called “MRO” for Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) is in a unique location. It is not found at a major airport or even within a large city. It is located about three hours (by car) northwest of Sao Paulo (GRU) in the middle of farm land.

The facility used to be a tractor factory, with a runway built next to it to fly in the company’s parts. Turns out building your own airport and flying in parts, rather than shipping them via road, was not the best business decision and the tractor company went out of business.

TAM's maintenance facility is located about 15 miles from Sao Carlos

TAM’s maintenance facility is located about 15 miles from Sao Carlos

TAM saw this as a great opportunity to purchase the land and open their MRO. Large facilities already existed and, more importantly, a runway. So just over a decade ago, TAM opened up their MRO about 15 minutes north of Sao Carlos, a town of around 220,000. I was recently invited to check out the facility, and it was a semi-adventure just getting there.

TAM's MRO is located out in the middle of farm fields - Photo: Google Maps

TAM’s MRO is located out in the middle of farm fields – Photo: Google Maps

We flew from Congonhas-São Paulo Airport (CGH) to Leite Lopes Airport (RAO), which took about 45 minutes. Then from RAO it was about an hour’s drive to get to the MRO facility.

Large storage area for the TAM MRO

Large storage area for the TAM MRO

There is a variety of work done at the MRO, including landing gear, hydraulics, pneumatics, upholstery, wheels & brakes, composites, machining, ATEC & electronics, electroplating, and thrust-reversers. Most noticeably, what they do not work on are the engines – those are sublet out.

This is the shop where composites are worked on

This is the shop where composites are worked on

TAM works on their fleet of Airbus A330s, A320s, and Boeing 767s at this facility. All the work on the Boeing 777s are done in Singapore by Singapore Airlines. When the Airbus A350 is added to TAM’s fleet, it also will be worked on at the Sao Carlos’ facility.

An engine says, "hello," from a long hallway

An engine says “hell0” from a long hallway

TAM is not the only company that makes use of their many MRO services. Others inlcude LAN, Embraer, Eaton, Dirmab, Hamilton Sunstrand, Goodrich, and even a few of TAM’s competitors: Azul, Avianca, and GOL.

It is hard to believe that this complicated facility is located in the middle of farm land

It is hard to believe that this complicated facility is located in the middle of farm land

There are about 1,400 employees that work 24 hours per day in three shifts at the TAM MRO. The facility completes about 160 checks on aircraft per year. The airline also completes about 65 of their checks at LAN’s MRO in Santiago and about 100 are sublet out each year.

The MRO was hopping with lots of different aircraft (all Airbus) at different stages of being worked on. The location has 11 slots for planes to be worked on and 22 different shops spread throughout the complex.

An Airbus A330 is lifted to have work done on it.

An Airbus A330 is lifted to have work done on it

Many aircraft in TAM’s fleet are leased. When the lease is up, the airline needs to prepare the aircraft for return. Sometimes that means putting in a new interior for the next airline or even painting it in the new livery. Other planes just need to be returned to the lessor cleaned up and in perfect working order. During our visit, there was an Airbus A330 and a  A320 being prepared to be returned to the leasing company.

This Airbus A330 is being prepped for a new home

This Airbus A330 is being prepped for a new home

I was impressed with how clean and organized the whole facility was. I could see it being a bit confusing remembering where everything is when first starting, but I am sure people are able to learn quickly.

Although the MRO is not open to the public, right next door is the TAM Museum, which does offer some views of aircraft being worked on.

MORE TAM MRO PHOTOS

You can see even more TAM MRO photos on our Flickr account

Disclaimer: TAM paid for my flights to/from Seattle and my accommodations to do this story. All opinions are my own.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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9 Comments

Thanks for the story and photos.

From some of the photos of aircraft covered in black plastic, it appears that TAM MRO does some of their aircraft painting outdoors, rather than in a closed hangar. Is this correct?

‘gunner

I am not sure why the ones outside are covered in plastic. Looks like maybe to protect it from the elements while it is being worked on? https://www.flickr.com/photos/airlinereporter/15022409221/in/set-72157646809048191

They do have a paint hangar, which is this one here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/airlinereporter/15025471345/in/set-72157646809048191

David

Jacob Choi

Tam’s 777 maintenance is in Singapore? The journey there must surely be too long.

I am sure they have people working the numbers and realizing that is the most cost effective way for the airline to do it. When asked they said that they had no plans to do 777 maintenance in-house.

David

Hi FrankV
About you doubt regarding on A330 covered in plastic. U would like inform you that is an normal storage procedure. This aircraft willbe redelivery to lessor and this way them must be waiting to contract signed.

Hi David
Did they tell you about their expansion plans?
Tks.

They have plans to bring on the A350, but it will be a while. Sure they will be getting the plane soon enough, but it will be quite some time still until the A350 needs any heavy maintenance.

David

Hello David,
Wonderful article. To add weight to your response concerning the 777 maintenance, the key to an ROI, with any MRO capability, is volume. TAM is only flying 10 777’s and I believe 3-6 of them are still under warranty with Boeing. So the volume would be low while the cost to tool up for the 777 platform (or any commercial platform) would be high.

Further, TAM has chosen the A350 as its growth platform over the 777. The true reason for this choice, as with all major airlines, is not fully known by anyone other than the top executives. But, the consequence is that TAM will, within the next decade or so, have volume with the A350. And as you rightly pointed out, TAM will then likely add the A350 MRO capability to its product mix.

Yes Ethan, you are right. But they also said that they have plenty of time to prepare for the A350, since it will be awhile before heavier maintenance will be done on the aircraft (at least we hope) because they are so new.

David, AirlineReporter

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