A high-quality addition
Besides TAM’s geographical desirability for the alliance, however, the airline brings to the table an undisputed level of quality surpassing that of many current and potential members. TAM operates a young fleet of the latest-technology aircraft; maintains a long-standing reputation for a commitment to customers; and offers passenger amenities – including lie-flat beds in business class, since 2005, and a top-notch inflight entertainment system – that rival or exceed many of its new partner airlines.
The airline also has a solid financial balance sheet, a first-class, environmentally friendly technological center at which it maintains its own and others’ aircraft, and a reputation for being technically advanced. In the next six months, TAM is expected to operate Latin America’s first biofuel demonstration flight using an Airbus A320 powered by a mixture of biofuels – including Brazilian vegetable biomass in the form of the Jatropha plant – with a view to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 per cent in the future.
For a long time TAM had a codesharing and frequent-flyer relationship with American Airlines, attracting connecting Brazilian-bound travelers to its New York and Miami flights from American flights and, in turn, feeding U.S.-bound travelers to American’s network. But while Varig was falling apart, TAM re-assessed its future under a number of scenarios: life without alliances, life with continuing bilateral alliances, or a merger. In the end, says Libano Miranda Barroso, president and CEO of TAM Airlines, all three had weaknesses and entry into a global alliance was deemed “the best option”.
“And in this scenario, Star Alliance was definitely the one that best fit the Brazilian market,” says Barroso, noting that as part of the “largest alliance” in the world, TAM is the seventh-largest of Star’s 28 member carriers.
What Star brings TAM
Barroso says TAM’s membership in Star is expected to generate an annual increase of about $60 million in revenues and an additional 3-to-5 per cent in passenger numbers over the next two years as it sees the “multiplying effect” from code-sharing and frequent-flyer agreements now being implemented. Calling the numbers a “very conservative” projection, Barroso says TAM already has seen revenue and passenger increases as a result of codeshares put in place prior to its official joining Star.
The airline has signed frequent-flyer agreements with all Star carriers, but is signing codeshare agreements with partners only where it sees synergies, according to Paulo Castello Branco, TAM’s vice president, commercial and planning.
For Star carriers flying into São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, TAM has extensive services that can carry connecting travelers from their intercontinental flights to most places in Brazil and to an increasing number of cities throughout South America.
With a modern fleet of 143 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, TAM serves 43 domestic destinations directly – 82 points including its regional partners’ code-share flights – and 18 international destinations: three in the U.S., five in Europe and 10 within Latin America.
In August, TAM adds nonstop flights from Rio’s Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (Galeão), its second-largest international hub after São Paulo, to both London and Frankfurt with two new Airbus A330-200s. It already serves both European capitals from São Paulo, but has been seeing increasing numbers of passengers connecting to Rio from those flights, notes Castello Branco. Galeão also is TAM’s third-largest domestic hub, providing passengers with additional connecting options.
TAM also will put Bogota, Colombia, on its route map by the end of 2010, with daily nonstop service from São Paulo.
Attention to service
Many connecting passengers, especially US travelers used to being charged domestically for everything, will be pleasantly surprised at the quality and all-inclusiveness of the service on TAM’s domestic flights. During a recent 50-minute flight between São Paulo’s downtown Congonhas Airport and Rio’s in-town Santos Dumont Airport, free, take-home, ear-bud headsets were passed out for listening to music or television, and complimentary drinks – including alcoholic beverages – were served, along with an excellent barbecue sandwich.
TAM’s attention to service has been a hallmark throughout its relatively short history, with officials often referring to the carrier’s “passion to fly and serve”, a vision of its venerated founder, Captain Rolim Adolfo Amaro. “It’s in our DNA,” says Barroso.
The airline’s roots date to 1961 with the formation of an air taxi company in Brazil by a group of young pilots. Ten years later, Amaro, a pilot who had worked at the company in its early years, became a minority partner, then expanded his ownership and took over the company. In 1976, TAM was born.