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