Robert Sanders rolls open the huge doors of a World War II-era hanger. He walks onto a floor of Learjets and other turbo prop business and civilian jets.
It’s TIA Aeronautics at the Valley International Airport in Harlingen. Sanders, the business owner, and Orlando Cano, the company’s general manager, begin to point out the various state of repairs on the planes. Sanders was born in Germany as the son of a U.S. serviceman and would himself serve in the Marines. Cano is a Harlingen native, a former Texas State Technical College instructor with years of experience in the aviation business.
The two men operate one of only a handful of FAA-certified repair stations in the United States that are approved to do both aircraft frame and power plant (engine) repair on turbo prop jets. Their clients include an array of airlines that do work for the U.S. and Mexican governments. They also include those that transport cargo for DHL, UPS and Amazon.
It is, as Cano puts it, “an unforgiving business,” where every bolt, screw, and part of a jet’s frame and engine has to undergo inspection with great precision. They are looking for any defects or cracks, and then they repair them with measurements that go into the tens of hundreds of inches.
“One piece falls out, one crack, and it takes out the whole engine,” Cano said.
Sanders, looking out over a hanger floor full of jets, agreed, saying, “We have to be right.”
The aeronautic repair business opened in 2015 after finding a South Texas airport that would work with TIA. They needed a facility that was a positive and supportive host as TIA began ramping up seeking FAA approval. The work by TIA has brought the 1940s-era hangar back to life. The business breaks up into several compartments that inspect, clean, assembly and test engines that have gone through repairs and overhauls.
“They’re very durable but at the same time fragile,” Sanders said of the parts that make up a jet engine.
Fluorescent liquid bathes individual parts to check for both cracks and obstructions. Inspections take place multiple times during a six- to 10-week process of receiving an engine. They encompass taking engines apart and then putting them back together again.
“It’s a specialized environment,” Sanders said. “It takes an extreme attention to detail and a patience level that keeps you completely focused on every step.”
Seven mechanics currently work at TIA and the company hopes to double that number in the next year as its business grows. Finding mechanics with the needed skills and technical levels is challenging. Both apprenticeships and years of study are requirements. Growth is desired but it must be measured as to what TIA can handle.
The historic Harlingen airport hangar bustles with business seven days a week, with cargo jets coming in and out for ground support maintenance to go with the daily nuts-and-bolts repair work.
“We’re refining our processes,” Cano said, “and gearing up to produce more engines.”