The fast-expanding maintenance unit of Brazilian carrier TAM is seeking to secure its first widebody third-party customer, with Boeing 767 heavy check slots available from later this year and Boeing 777 heavy check slots available from 2011.

TAM's Sao Carlos facility currently overhauls Fokker 100s and Airbus A320 family aircraft for several third-party customers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. TAM MRO VP Ruy Amparo says the Sao Carlos shop is preparing to expand its third-party operation into several new aircraft types, including 767s and 777s, as part of an overall plan to grow its third-party business.

In 2009 third-party work accounted for about 15% of TAM's maintenance revenues. But Amparo says while 33 of the 106 narrowbody heavy checks completed at Sao Carlos last year were for third-party customers, all 13 of the widebody checks completed in 2009 were on TAM aircraft.

TAM MRO strategic planning manager Carlos Osorio says TAM, which created a separate business unit for its MRO operation last year, is now actively seeking its first 767 third-party customer.

TAM added 767 airframe capabilities last year and Osorio says it recently completed its third 767 heavy check. As TAM only operates three 767s, a third-party customer is required to keep its 767 maintenance operation active.

Osorio acknowledges given the small size of TAM's 767 fleet a third-party customer is required in order for the investment TAM made in acquiring tooling and training its staff for the 767 to be fully recouped. But while an initial customer has not yet been secured he is confident TAM will secure third-party 767 business this year, pointing out a large number of 767s operate in the region.

Amparo says TAM also has begun preparations to begin 777 heavy checks at Sao Carlos next year. He says work on the first 777 will start at the beginning of the second half of 2011, when the first of TAM's four 777-300ERs is due for a heavy check. As TAM is not planning to expand its 777 fleet until 2012, the carrier will have the capacity to also maintain third-party 777 customers starting in late 2011.

Osorio says TAM plans to enlarge the front end of its only airframe maintenance hangar to accommodate 777s. The hangar modification project is expected to be completed in mid 2011, just in time for TAM's first in-house 777 heavy check.

Once the project is completed, Osorio says TAM will be able to fit one 777 plus two A320 family aircraft at the front end of its existing airframe maintenance hangar. The project will not affect the back end of the same hangar, which can now accommodate three Fokker 100 airframe maintenance lines plus a paint shop that can house a Fokker 100 or an A320.

Currently TAM can only accommodate one 767 or A330 and two A320s in the front end of the hangar. Osorio says after the hangar is enlarged, TAM will be able to fit in one 767 or A330 and three A320s when a 777 is not in the shop.

To further expand its widebody capacity, TAM is also planning to start construction of a new hangar at Sao Carlos designed to accommodate two widebodies up to the size of a 777. Osorio expects the new hangar to open in 2012. The new hangar gives TAM the flexibility to run up to three widebody lines simultaneously or run two widebody lines plus an expanded narrowbody operation.

While TAM in recent months has also been using its only current widebody slot for 767s, traditionally this slot has only been used for A330s. The A330 is the workhorse in TAM's widebody fleet as the carrier currently operates 16 of the type with two more to be delivered this year and two more in 2011.

Amparo says TAM has been maintaining its own A330s at Sao Carlos since 2003, when the airport's runway was extended to accommodate A330s. TAM is also interested in pursuing third-party business for A330s, having secured EASA certification for the type in late 2008.

TAM also operates two A340-500s but Amparo says the carrier is unable to maintain these aircraft in-house because the runway at Sao Carlos is not wide enough for the A340. He says TAM has been sending these aircraft to Hong Kong for heavy maintenance.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news