Aerospace sector must resume soon to resolve backlog issue, cargo operation

by AFIQ AZIZ/ pic by TMR FILE

THE aerospace sector needs to resume its operation immediately to resolve backlog issues or risks being the “weak link” in global supply chain, especially for aircraft components.

Malaysia Aerospace Industry Association (MAIA) said the government’s decision to allow the aerospace industry to resume operations during the Phase 3 of Movement Control Order (MCO) is vital to ensure the sector’s sustainability.

“It is important to get the industry to resume soon, as it is safe to do so,” MAIA president Datuk Naguib Mohd Nor told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently.

“It must also be noted that Malaysia manufactures major aircraft components for a 100% export market,” he said, adding that there is a large backlog in aircraft orders such as Airbus’ A320 fleet.

Last week, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali announced that the aerospace sector is among the key areas that has been given the green light to resume operations in stages under the MCO, which has been extended for another two weeks until April 28.

The aerospace industry covers a holistic process from “cradle to grave” of an aircraft cycle.

Besides manufacturing and servicing airplanes, the sector also caters for air mobility components like helicopters and drones.

In Malaysia, aerospace is classified into four subsectors namely, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), aero-manufacturing, systems integration and aircraft’s engineering design.

Among the locally manufactured products include fan cowl, fan casing, thrust reverser, forward leading edge, aircraft doors, avionics equipment and carbon brakes.

According to the National Aerospace Industry Coordinating Office (Naico), revenue for Malaysia aerospace sector rose 6.67% to RM14.4 billion in 2018 compared to RM13.5 billion in 2017 and the figures were expected to grow year-on-year.

This is in line with the Malaysian Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2015-2030 that set a vision for the country to be the leader in the aerospace sector in Asean, generating RM55.2 billion of revenue with 32,000 high income jobs from about 24,500 workers now.

Naico head Shamsul Kamar Abu Samah said the country’s MRO requirements — which include servicing of aircraft — could be used to meet the demand of cargo operations.

Currently, airfreight services are still occupied with demands where majority of the demands are meant to transport Covid-19 health and medical products across the globe, such as medical gloves, face masks and medicines.

Some airlines have also converted their passengers’ fleet into large cargo fleet in filling up the demand.

“The MRO facility also serves military and government assets, as well as limited commercial airplanes that operate crucial routes or on special tasks,” Shamsul Kamar told TMR.

“Besides, this is also the time for commercial airlines to send aircraft for major repair and modification,” he explained.

The manufacturing subsector, Shamsul Kamar said, will complement the MRO needs in terms of supplying crucial spare parts to the currently flying aircraft and helicopters.

“On top of this, the original equipment manufacturers also have huge backlogs and the continuation of operation will help to reduce the burden of our customers as they may require aircraft immediately after the Covid-19 crisis ends,” Shamsul Kamar added.

The manufacturing subsector currently stands at about 48% of the industry, while MRO stands at 46%.

Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) estimated between 10% and 15% of total aero industry growth last year. The 2019 official figure and 2020 projection are yet to be released by MITI.

Naguib said, for now, the industry does not have a clear forecast after the outbreak of Covid-19.