Rolim Adolfo Amaro

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The Independent Online

Rolim Adolfo Amaro, pilot and airline owner: born Pereira Barrero, Brazil 15 September 1942; married (two sons, one daughter); died São Paulo, Brazil 8 July 2001.

When Rolim Adolfo Amaro died in a helicopter crash in São Paulo the initial surprise was followed by a flood of anecdotes and stories about the man and his exploits as an innovator in Brazilian aviation. In Latin America his name was almost synonymous with flamboyance and overwhelming capacity for work enterprise.

Amaro, whose business cards introduced him to every passenger on his planes as "Comandante Rolim", took a small provincial air-taxi company bought with his pilot's wages and borrowed cash, and turned it into Brazil's most profitable airline. As Brazil's two traditional brand names, VASP and Transbrasil, ran into financial difficulties, Rolim's TAM (Transportes Aéreos Mercosur) was, at the time of his death, a close rival in domestic transport to Brazil's flagship airline Varig, and a growing regional competitor to everybody else in the region.

"Captain Rolim", a chubby-faced, balding man with an almost permanent smile on his face, got his commercial pilot's licence in 1963, and he became an airline pilot the following year. On all home routes he was the most prominent presence among the crews and staff at local airports, a man with an overpowering ego.

He was known for flaunting airline rules, often carrying goods required urgently elsewhere or taking on sick passengers who had no tickets but who needed treatment in other cities. That kind of populism won him a string of honours in several provincial cities where he was later made a "freeman" by local authorities.

Amaro was also outrageously politically incorrect, surrounding himself with a Hefner-like team of attractively uniformed young women. The anecdotes about his life were legion. One, quite recently, had him travelling through Brazil and Uruguay on his Harley-Davison motorcyle, with not a single identity document in his possession, a prerequisite in bureaucratic South America. He told an immigration official in Argentina, where he was finally turned back, that his personality was sufficient identification. At other times he produced a magazine cutting that had declared him sixth in a ranking produced by a survey to find the "entrepreneurs of the 20th century" in Brazil.

His TAM company started to expand south of Brazil into the regional market cities of Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Asunción in the Nineties, at one stage virtually becoming Paraguay's only airline connecting with the region and the world beyond. Amaro argued that he was not interested in undercutting other airline fares, but gave all passengers a "Red Carpet Treatment" that came with his personal charm. He would fly his own planes and spend a journey with his passengers. Last March he had inaugurated a new four-flights-a-day service between Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, an innovation that alarmed other more established carriers.

Company managers were quick to claim that the airline was efficiently led and would carry on without Amaro, but, in this land of authoritarian rule and charismatic leaders, the "Comandante" will be hard to replace. What he will leave without a doubt is his memory, as everybody who thinks of him now smiles at the recollection.

Andrew Graham-Yooll

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