Interview: Habib Fekih
How can host countries attract more investment and finance in the aviation sector?
HABIB FEKIH: Aircraft manufacturers look for the following characteristics when evaluating host countries: an abundant pool of skilled workers, adequate transport infrastructure and logistics services, a supportive government and safety. Host countries should pay special attention to the development of human capital; some stigmatise those without a university degree and do not sufficiently value technical training. Under-valuing technical training, however, limits the pool of necessary workers in fields like aviation. Fortunately, countries like Tunisia and Morocco have invested in training centres, such as the Moroccan Aerospace Institute and the Centre of Excellence for Aeronautical Trades in Tunisia, as these kinds of institutes reduce the need for high-cost foreign workers. Countries hoping to attract more aviation investment can do so by creating technical training institutes with predetermined timeframes.
How important are countries like Tunisia and Morocco to the aircraft manufacturing process?
FEKIH: In addition to partnering with suppliers and sub-contractors, aircraft manufacturers can also partner with countries to host parts of their in-house manufacturing systems. Since much of the customer base of aircraft manufacturers is outside of Europe, the manufacturers have the opportunity to create win-win relationships with their customers. Whether it is through a direct presence, sub-contracting or joint ventures, manufacturers can give client countries the opportunity to become part of their in-house manufacturing systems. Creating these kinds of advantageous relationships gives manufacturers access to diversified partners and therefore makes their development more sustainable. It is true that manufacturers look to relatively higher-cost countries like the US for specific technologies, but now it is possible to have low-cost, high-quality technology in countries like Tunisia and Morocco. Furthermore, North Africa possesses significant advantages like proximity to factories in Europe and high-quality human resources.
What impact will growth of the global aviation industry have on emerging markets?
FEKIH: The demand for civilian aircrafts is quickly growing, and one day there might be a third major Chinese competitor. Aviation is the only industry that can claim to have a known backlog of up to 10 years in advance. This long-term visibility creates unique investment opportunities that national governments can exploit as aviation opens many doors. The size of the civilian aircraft fleet grows at about 5% per year and will double in about 15 years. This kind of growth requires increasing direct investments in countries that are part of the aviation value chain, and this can often be done in emerging markets.
What makes Tunisia a unique investment destination, and what improvements can be made?
FEKIH: Tunisia boasts all of the necessary characteristics to attract investment from the aviation industry. The country has a relatively well-educated population and is close to Europe. Moreover, it possesses a combination of both manufacturing and service-providing capacity. In particular, Tunisia has the necessary human resources with over 10,000 aviation workers, as well as plenty of qualified IT professionals and white-collar engineers. The country’s wealth of hardware and software developers are a great asset for the industry.
Tunisia would, however, benefit from a better evaluation of the post-revolution situation. Naturally the country is going through a period of instability, but Tunisia remains a safe country. Moreover, democracy in Tunisia has reaffirmed the right of workers to strike. Therefore, if investors wonder whether or not they should continue investing in Tunisia, the answer is yes.
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