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Tulsa's American Airlines is largest commercial aviation maintenance facility in the world

American Airlines maintenance facility at Tulsa International Airport; Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 (KTUL)
American Airlines maintenance facility at Tulsa International Airport; Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 (KTUL)
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Tulsa's American Airlines base is the largest commercial aviation maintenance facility in the world.

It has more than three million square feet of hangar and shop space across 33 acres. It's large because what they work on is large. Two hundred and forty-six planes have been overhauled at the base this year, including a 737 that's in one of the hangars now.

Everything is stripped from the inside of the fuselage down to the floorboard and refurbished to make a plane that could be more than two decades old look and run like it's brand new.

"The maintenance program is not like your car. They are maintained like a standard; they’re always in great condition when they’re flying," mechanic Steve Harmening said.

Across the base, the engine shop may be the biggest source of pride for workers here.

Hanging from a gantry is an engine that's also undergoing an overhaul. It's big at nearly three tons, and expensive, costing $14 million. Each part could pay off your car or mortgage.

Steve Lahr, who's the engine tech crew chief, shows an example: "What I have in my hand is what’s called a high-pressure turbine blade," he says. "There are 80 of these in an engine. This particular part costs $12,000 brand new."

Another part, not much bigger than a hubcap, goes for $380,000. The engine shop is working on 21 overhauls right now at a repair cost of $6 million an engine, and their workload is growing; 100 this year and double that by 2021.

The maintenance facility is a major contributor to our region's economy.

More than 5,000 people work there, and the work never stops. It goes on around the clock in three shifts, and the base is growing. More work means more workers.

American recently announced it would be hiring 400 new workers. Garrett Chambers is one of the first new hires.

"My mother, who passed away when I was younger, was a ticket agent for American Airlines," says Chambers. "So, I always wanted to be in the airline's industry. I saw they were hiring 400 plus people and I got my name in and I was one of the first ones hired here."

If you think the work is mostly automated, done by machinery or robots, you're mistaken. Most of the tasks are done by hand. The seat shop is where the seats come when a plane is in for an overhaul. Each one is cleaned and refurbished before you sit on it again.

Supervisor Pamela Tennyson has come across some interesting stuff.

"Oh yeah, we've seen drivers licenses, passports, wedding rings, coins," said Tennyson.

It all goes on at the largest commercial aviation maintenance base in the world.

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