Brazilian high-flyer

As it happens, GOL is not an abbreviation, Gol actually is the Portuguese word for “goal” in football. Brazilians are crazy about football, that’s why this is the perfect choice for a brand name. It goes back to the year 2001, when GOL started operations with six Boeing 737s. The beginning of a success story: Today, GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes is the world’s fourth-largest low-cost airline, with over 40 million passengers carried annually. And the brand name is still a perfect match in the year of the football World Cup in Brazil.

05.2014 | Text: Andreas Spaeth

It was in the back room of a Mercedes bus repair shop in São Paulo, some time to­wards the end of the year 2000. Christoph Heck, currently Vice President, Marketing & Sales, The Americas at MTU Maintenance Hannover, recalls every detail: “We were sitting together with some young entrepreneurs who had come up with the idea of a start-up: a low-cost airline.” They weren’t just any founders, but it was Constantino de Oliveira Júnior, offspring of the biggest Brazilian bus operator, and his three brothers. So there was enough capital to get started and also plenty of expertise in the trans­port business. “They wanted to come up with something really big, and their plans sounded good,” remembers Heck. So MTU already had a trustful relationship with the airline-to-be even before it made its first flight. That finally happened on January 15, 2001, when GOL—with six Boeing 737s—started competing in the race to dominate the lucrative domestic Brazilian market, the world’s fourth largest in 2014. By 2020, it is even expected that Brazil will be the third-largest market for domestic air travel, be­hind the U.S. and China. When GOL was established, passengers in the country of Sugarloaf Mountain had turbulent times behind them, with VASP and Transbrasil folding in quick succession, followed by long-established Varig. Its successor, called New Varig, was taken over by GOL in 2007. GOL still operates ten Boeing 737s in full Varig livery for flights to the Caribbean and Venezuela, using old Varig route rights.

Brazil, the world’s fifth-largest country, seemed to be a good breeding ground for a low­-cost airline, with flying so far being affordable only for the rich, while the majority of the 192 million Brazilians had to make do using buses rattling along on congested roads. The journey from Brazil’s Northeast, a region experiencing a steady outflow of migrants, to the industrial cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro takes two to three days. Since its launch, GOL has won more than 50 million people who now regu­larly travel by plane, a real success story. The growth of the start-up happened quickly, on average twelve aircraft were added to the fleet every year, and GOL soon landed the founding family in the global list of billionaires, even though 9/11 happened only eight months after the first flight. Following the recent merger of Brazilian market lea­der TAM with Chilean airline LAN to create LATAM, which is nowadays mostly con­trolled from Santiago de Chile, GOL has become the biggest airline headquartered in Brazil.

Operating a fleet of around 140 Boeing 737s, GOL currently serves 65 destinations across the Americas.

With over 40 million passengers a year, GOL is Latin America’s biggest low-cost airline and the fourth-largest in the world, behind Southwest Airlines in the U.S. and Ryanair as well as easyJet in Europe. With its current fleet of 36 Boeing 737-700s and 104 Boeing 737-800s GOL operates 970 flights daily, serving a total of 65 destinations, among them eight in neighboring South American states, four in the Caribbean as well as Miami and Orlando in the U.S. Since the very beginning, the carrier has been sup­ported by MTU Maintenance: initially, when the fleet was still young, only on a case-by-case basis, and since January 2013 under a long-term contract running until 2018 and covering the maintenance of half of the CFM56-7B engines in GOL’s fleet. “To date, al­most 40 GOL engines have undergone maintenance at our facilities in Hannover and Zhuhai,” says Axel Homborg, Director, Sales, The Americas at MTU Maintenance Hannover. The partnership is highly valued also by GOL: “With MTU, we have an ex­treme­ly competent and reliable partner on our side,” emphasizes Eduardo Calderon, Director, Supply Chain at GOL. “The fact that MTU is performing maintenance at two independent locations ensures short and reliable turnaround times.”

Half of the CFM56-7B engines in GOL’s fleet are sent to MTU Maintenance for MRO.

Both partners see themselves as close team players. “The secret of our success is the intensive communication and cooperation between the teams of both companies,” re­veals Claus Herzog, MTU’s representative in Brazil. “Many of the crucial elements of our cooperation are essentially the same as in football,” says Homborg, bringing to­gether the brand name of his customer and the major event of this year, the FIFA World Cup, the opening match of which will take place in São Paulo on June 12.

So it is more than fitting that GOL is the official airline of the “Seleção”, Brazil’s na­tion­al team. “We are the largest Brazilian airline and it is an honor for us to carry our football players,” says GOL’s CEO Paulo Kakinoff. “The synergy between foot­ball and GOL is notorious.” And GOL is showing its commitment to the cause with a Boeing 737-800 in a special green and yellow livery. Kakinoff already knows how to deal with German partners: He previously worked for car maker Audi and lived in Germany for two years during that time. Kakinoff and his staff at GOL know as well as their part­ners at MTU that there is one topic on which they can hardly agree: And that’s which team they will be backing, hoping it will win the golden trophy in the end.

A showcase of sustainability

The upcoming big sports events in Brazil, the football World Cup in 2014 as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, are ideal stages to promote an important topic for the future of aviation: the use of biofuel. On October 23, 2013, GOL con­ducted Brazil’s first commercial flight powered in part by sustainable aviation biofuel made from waste cooking oil and blended by Petrobras. Following the flight, GOL, Boeing and several Brazilian research institutions founded the Brazilian Biojetfuel Platform, the aim being to launch a sustainable jet biofuel industry. Brazil already has an established bio-fuel industry and might be the first nation to set up production of biokerosene from biomass on an industrial scale. “This project will further advance the effort to expand biofuel use in Brazil,” hopes GOL’s CEO Paulo Kakinoff. The airline plans to use sustainable biofuels on 200 flights during the World Cup. It then aims to incorporate biofuels into 20 percent of its flights operating during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

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