Aeronautics has been one of Tunisia’s fastest-growing industries since 2003, posting double-digit annual growth rates even after the 2011 revolution. The country has leveraged its proximity to Europe and specialises in low-cost component manufacturing.
Between 2006 and 2016, the sector saw its turnover leap from TD30m (€12.9m) to TD535m (€229.4m), with many new companies entering the market. The government is thus looking to consolidate the sector’s fast-paced growth and further move up the value chain.
The sector today is home to 70 aeronautics companies that employ around 13,000 people. A significant jump in activity was witnessed in 2009 following the inauguration of a sub-assembly facility for French firm Aerolia, a subsidiary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company. Aerolia was also instrumental in developing Aeropole, a 20-ha industrial zone in El Mghira dedicated to aeronautics.
A number of the company’s major suppliers followed suit, including Latécoère – which implemented two cable factories and is now expected to construct a third production site – and Corse Composites Aé ronautiques, which established a plant to produce landing gear hatches. Production capacities are set to further increase in the short term as a series of major investments came on-line in 2016. These include French group Stelia Aerospace’s TD75m (€32.2m) plan to expand its production plant; Zodiac Aerospace’s creation of a new TD25m (€10.7m) component factory in Grombalia; and Figeac Aero’s acquisition of PECISS, a local company specialising in industrial technology services.
“The sector has been constantly expanding, with investments carried out not only by major contractors, but also by small and medium-sized companies operating in the sector,” Thierry Haure-Mirande, president of the Tunisian Aerospace Industries Association, told OBG.
Some 95% of aerospace companies are registered under the country’s offshore regime that allows them to retain 100% of the project capital and freely repatriate dividends. Companies are free to settle wherever they wish in Tunisia to benefit from offshore status, and Customs clearance procedures are performed on site.
According to Tunisia’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency, the aeronautics sector adds an average of 1000 workers each year and labour costs are competitive, with the salary of a Tunisian engineer being one-fifth that of an equally qualified professional in the southern European countries.
The country benefits from a number of dedicated educational institutions such as the Centre for Excellence for Aerospace Industry Professions and the Tunisia Polytechnic School, as well as a host of public and private engineering schools and technical institutions. Tunisia is further supported by 15 sector-specific training centres in the fields of metal construction, electronics, telecommunications, mechanics, plastics processing, maintenance and energy. From these institutions, the Tunisian labour market is supplied with roughly 4500 engineers and technicians each year.
Initially based on labour-intensive activities, the Tunisian aeronautical component industry is poised to consolidate its position towards technology-intensive segments such as sheet-iron work, 3D parts modelling, and test automation for software and physical equipment. In a bid to fully tap the sector’s potential, the authorities are planning to set up a regional aerospace cluster called Tunisia Aeronautic Valley to accommodate a wider range of companies – including suppliers, engineering consultants, and helicopter and drone constructors – to achieve greater economies of scale and engage in new areas such as maintenance, dismantling and plane storage.
According to Haure-Mirande, increased knowledge in segments with higher added value, including composite components, mechanical machining, smelting work, assembly, plastic parts and surface treatments, will ensure that aeronautical parts manufacturing in Tunisia covers almost the entire supply chain of the sector.
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