Interview: Pierre Jaffre, President, Airbus Asia Pacific
What advantages does Thailand hold in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry?
PIERRE JAFFRE: Thailand is already playing a major role in Asia’s commercial aviation revolution. Bangkok is one of the world’s largest aeronautical hubs, with more than 90m passengers transiting through its airport every year. Thailand’s geographic location at the heart of this fast-growing region, its inexpensive cost base and skilled workforce give it a significant competitive advantage, and the state has prioritised aerospace as an engine of economic productivity moving forward.
The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) is a trading and industrial hub of growing importance to not only Thailand, but also the entire ASEAN region. Establishing an aircraft MRO centre will be a strategic contribution to the EEC, and U-Tapao International Airport (UTIA) is set to become a regional aerospace centre. The development of the airport should enable Thailand to create a vibrant and innovative MRO industry. It is already able to handle aircraft of all sizes and is home to extensive maintenance facilities operated by Thai Airways International (THAI), which will start maintaining the Airbus A380 in 2018 with the support of Airbus teams at UTIA. In the early 2020s new hangar facilities will be built, while the airport will grow, eventually having two runways.
In cooperation with the Civil Aviation Training Centre, THAI and Airbus are also looking at establishing a mechanical engineering school and a composite component repair centre. Such projects will facilitate technology transfer into the region and prove beneficial to vertical development in the aerospace industry.
In what ways does Thailand differ from other regional aviation maintenance centres?
JAFFRE: The UTIA project is part of our wider strategy to develop the services business in Asia Pacific. It would feature up-to-date facilities with the latest digital technologies. This MRO centre would be one of the most modern and extensive in the Asia-Pacific region, offering line and heavy maintenance services for a wide range of aircraft types. For example, the new complex would be able to analyse maintenance data and use advanced inspection techniques, including the use of drones to monitor aircraft airframes. The MRO campus is set to include specialised repair shops, including a repair centre for composite structures and a maintenance training centre offering extensive courses for local and international technical personnel. As mentioned, its geographic position, skilled personnel and competitive costs make Thailand an attractive location. The market potential in the region will bring great benefits for many years to come.
It is predicted that the number of aircraft operated by carriers in the Asia-Pacific region will more than double over the next 20 years, from around 6100 to 17,000 aircraft, with an additional requirement to train 230,000 engineers and technicians over the same period. We forecast the value of maintenance and overhaul in this region alone will stand at around $664bn over the next decade.
How can manufacturers be incentivised to expand education and local industry collaboration?
JAFFRE: The government’s vision for Thailand 4.0 rightly prioritises aerospace as an engine of economic growth in the coming years. The plans for the EEC especially provide an excellent framework for long-term international investment. In this context, the designation of UTIA as the site of a new aerospace centre immediately caught our attention. It is favourably located at the heart of this fast-growing region for air transport, can handle aircraft of all sizes, offers a skilled workforce and is already home to extensive maintenance facilities operated by THAI. Importantly, a central element in our evaluation with THAI is to include a training facility to draw more young people to the industry and develop and upgrade their talent.
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