Airbus to keep growing with Malaysia

The company is a key leader in the local aerospace industry, expanding its footprint in the defence, space and helicopter product lines


AIRBUS SE, was relatively a new name in the global aviation industry when it became Malaysia’s strategic partner in 1978, following Malaysia Airlines Bhd’s acquisition of the original wide-body aircraft A300B4.

Today, 41 years later, the relationship has expanded beyond commercial aircraft.

Malaysia is now the customer base of over 230 civil Airbus aircraft that are in service and another 480 on order for future delivery.

Historically, as an international alliance for many aviation companies, Airbus came into being in the early 1970s.

Lim says Airbus is predominantly focussed on the A320 aircraft family and today it is operating at 90% of the capacity

The European multinational aerospace corporation has since become an international reference in the aerospace sector as it designs, manufactures and delivers industry-leading commercial aircraft, helicopters, military transports, satellites and launch vehicles.

In Malaysia, Airbus has also grown to become a key leader in the local aerospace industry, expanding its footprint in the defence, space and helicopter product lines.

Airbus fully owns Sepang Aircraft Engineering Sdn Bhd (SAE) — a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre based in Kuala Lumpur — a facility that has been running since 2017.

Apart from being an MRO service provider for commercial aircraft, engines and components, SAE is Airbus’ Flight Hour Services authorised bonded warehouse and logistics centre for the region.

Airbus Malaysia country head Raymond Lim said it has been an amazing year for the company with recent events such as the launch of the country’s first “smart” repair workshop for aircraft radomes at SAE. Airbus also launched a regional helicopter completion and delivery centre at its facility in Subang, Selangor and finalised AirAsia Group Bhd’s purchase of 12 A320neo aircraft and AirAsia X’s 30 A321XLR.

“These are pretty good news for Airbus in Malaysia. So, it has been an incredible year,” Lim told The Malaysian Reserve in an hourlong interview recently.

Yet, Airbus has bigger dreams beyond just a large number of aircraft orders from its clients.

More Than Just Commercial Aircraft
According to Lim, Airbus represents over 70% of the total commercial aircraft flying in the country.

“I think this augurs well with the product that we put into the market and the confidence the market has for Airbus’ aircraft. “This goes very well in terms of our footprint in Malaysia. We remain the largest aerospace partner for the industry in Malaysia and we are committed to deliver more,” he added.

SAE has 2 hangars with a combined floor area of some 50,000 sq m

Beyond commercial success, Airbus has also developed strong industrial partnerships with Malaysia that have brought multiple benefits to the country’s economy.

Malaysia is the largest supplier base for Airbus in South-East Asia, with its aerospace firms producing aerostructures and components across the company’s product line.

Every Airbus aircraft flying across the globe today has parts produced by Composites Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM) Sdn Bhd in Malaysia.

CTRM is also one of the world’s top five suppliers of composite structures to Airbus as it provides a complete range of manufacturing expertise, most notably the production of wing components for the A320 Family, A350 XWB and A380, nacelles for the A350 XWB and various aerostructures for the A400M military airlifter.

One of Airbus’ earliest industrial partners in Malaysia, SME Aerospace Sdn Bhd, has been manufacturing wing components for the A320 family, the A330 family, the A380 and the A350 XWB since 1998. It also manufactures parts for Airbus Helicopters.

Another key partner is Spirit Aerosystems Malaysia Sdn Bhd, which assembles various wing components for the A320 family and widebody A350 XWB.

Meanwhile, Strand Aerospace Malaysia Sdn Bhd is engaged in engineering services, carrying out design and certification analysis of aircraft structures across almost all Airbus aircraft family types including the A320 family, A330, A350 XWB, A380 and A400M.

Strand Aerospace also supports the company’s suppliers in Malaysia in the design and certification of parts such as the A380 underwing panels and new toolsets for the A320 and A350 XWB.

Airbus’ MRO and training facility is also involved in research and technology activities locally.

SAE has two hangars with a combined floor area of some 50,000 sq m. The first hangar can accommodate up to six singleaisle aircraft or two wide-body aircraft, while the second hangar can accommodate two A320 aircraft at any one time for major maintenance checks.

Lim said 700 people are working in the MRO facility and the number is expected to grow in the next two years to 900 people.

“We are predominantly focussed on the A320 aircraft family and today we are operating at 90% of the capacity. It is doing very well and I think we are in a good position as an original equipment manufacturer-owned MRO to further develop in terms of having smart hangers,” he said.

As for the smart hangar, Lim said it involves a more autonomous maintenance of an aircraft that combines the use of innovative technologies and smart Internet of Things-connected equipment that would minimise aircraft on ground (AOG) time.

Currently, SAE’s two hangars are able to handle 120 checks annually. Prior to the establishment of the second hangar, SAE managed to perform 500 “C” checks of aircraft.

As it is, the turnaround time per flight at SAE would require between eight and 25 days to conduct the “C” checks, while paintworks may take from eight and 12 days for completion.

“It is an MRO 4.0 concept with more autonomous maintenance of the aircraft. We will still have human intervention but it would be lesser, which means the AOG will be reduced, benefitting the customers in turn. This is quite an evolution,” he added.

Emphasising on the ideal situation whereby majority of the labour intensive job will be autonomous, Lim added that it cannot be done very soon.

Commercial Aircraft and Helicopters
It is a known fact that Airbus is the leading supplier of civil aircraft to Malaysia. With a total of 769 aircraft ordered by airlines in the country, Malaysia is Airbus’ third-largest market in the Asia-Pacific region after China and India.

Back when Malaysia Airlines placed its first order for the original A300B4, the flag carrier also became one of the European manufacturer’s earliest customers.

In 1989 and 1990, the carrier ordered 10 new twin-engine widebody A330-300s.

Since the A330 entered services with Malaysia Airlines in 1995, it has become a proven and popular choice with passengers flying on its Asia-Pacific route network.

Lim said Malaysia Airlines currently has in service 15 A330-300 and six A330-200 passenger aircraft.

Additionally, its subsidiary MAB Kargo Sdn Bhd operates three A330-200F freighters.

“In 2012, Malaysia Airlines and Airbus marked a major milestone in their relationship when the carrier became a new operator of the A380.

“Since the entry into service of the first aircraft in June 2012, the carrier has taken delivery of six A380s including the 100th A380 aircraft,” he said.

Then, in September 2015, Malaysia Airlines signed a lease agreement with Air Lease Corp for six A350-900s. The first aircraft was delivered in November 2017. Malaysia Airlines today has six A350s in its fleet that primarily operate on its services to London.

Meanwhile, AirAsia, the region’s largest low-cost carrier, became an Airbus customer in March 2005 when it signed a contract for 60 A320s.

It has since placed several repeat orders including a mega-deal for 200 A320neo aircraft at the 2011 Paris Air Show and another for 100 A320s in December 2012.

At the 2016 Farnborough Airshow, AirAsia signed a firm order for 100 A321neo, its first deal for the largest member of the best-selling A320 family.

In June this year, at the Paris Air Show, AirAsia converted 253 of its A320neo order to the larger A321neo, making it the world’s largest customer for the A321neo.

“This brings the total number of A320 family aircraft ordered by AirAsia to 592 (188 A320ceo, 51 A320neo, and 353 A321neo), making AirAsia one of Airbus’ largest customers,” Lim said.

AirAsia X, the long-haul low-cost affiliate of the AirAsia Group, operates a fleet of 36 Airbus A330 widebody aircraft.

Most recently, AirAsia X also finalised a firm order with Airbus for an additional 12 A330-900 and 30 A321XLR aircraft.

“This increases the number of A330neo aircraft ordered by AirAsia X to 78, reaffirming the carrier’s status as the largest airline customer for the type.

“Meanwhile, the A321XLR order sees the wider AirAsia Group strengthen its position as the world’s largest airline customer for the A320 family, having now ordered a total of 622 aircraft,” he said.

The RMAF operates a fleet of H225M rotorcraft

As for the rotorcraft segment, Airbus has over 100 helicopters in service in the country, including the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) fleet of multi-role H225M helicopters, the Royal Malaysian Navy’s AS555SN Fennec rotorcraft, and the Royal Malaysian Police’s AS355 fleet.

In the civil and para-public segments, helicopters such as the AS365, H130, H135 and H145 are also popular on missions including search and rescue, emergency medical services and passenger transport.

“Out of the total 100 helicopters, 25 are governmental aircraft, 75 are commercial that includes oil and gas companies and other big companies including Malaysia Helicopter Services that owns our super pumas.

“There are also individual buyers which fall under our VIP category and this segment itself makes up 50% of the overall commercial buyers’ segment,” Lim added.

In 2002, the company set up its Airbus Helicopters Malaysia Sdn Bhd subsidiary to be closer to its customers.

From its base in Subang, the company offers services including the sale and distribution of helicopter products and services, and maintenance, overhaul and modification work, logistics support, ground handling and hangarage.

In 2018, Malaysia was appointed the regional MRO hub for the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the regional completion and delivery centre.

“Subang is also the location of Airbus Helicopters Simulation Centre, a joint venture with Boustead Heavy Industries Corp Bhd. It houses the region’s only training simulators for the H225 and H225M helicopters, as well as a second simulator for AS365 Dauphin training,” Lim said.

Beyond the Skies and Into the Space
This year, Airbus was selected by Malaysian satellite operator Measat Global Bhd to build Measat-3d.

“The plan is to launch the new satellite in 2021. It is a new multi-mission telecommunications satellite to replace capacity and augment Measat’s core business in Malaysia, Asia, Middle East and Africa,” Lim said.

Overall, in the local space segment, Airbus delivered Measat-3b, the largest satellite ordered by the country’s communication sector, in 2014.

The satellite, according to Lim, supports the demand for video and data services across Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Australia.

Near Term Goals
In 2018, Airbus generated US$400 million (RM1.62 billion) from sourcing and activities.

Lim said the company is expected to generate a third higher at about US$550 million a year by 2023.

“In terms of manpower, we anticipate to grow our workforce from the current 4,000 to 5,300 in five years,” he added.

On plans to establish an Airbus Malaysia Digital Initiative, he said the company is working on developing a master plan at this point of time.

The Airbus Malaysia Digital Initiative would involve works with local stakeholders to enhance the competitiveness of the local aerospace sector through the application of new technologies.

“The master plan involves looking into project selections that will encompass various activities we would do with the aerospace industry in Malaysia. In turn, it would essentially increase the competitiveness of the industry by using digital technology.

“Having said that, with regards to the initiative itself, we are also looking specifically at our own supply chain in Malaysia and how we can improve its processes using the technologies that are involved,” Lim said.

He noted that the technology would be established by Airbus in collaboration with the government and local industry.