Thai Airways International Plc (THAI) and Rolls-Royce have announced a collaboration on an R&D programme for the Trent XWB engine.
Surachai Piencharoensak, executive vice-president for technical matters at THAI, said the Trent XWB Development Testing partnership will take place over a two-year period at Don Mueang airport.
"This is the first overseas engine research and development testing for Rolls-Royce outside the United Kingdom," Mr Surachai said. "This programme is part of the strategic plan for 2018-19 and is a revenue-generating, collaborative project for THAI, whereby technology and skills gained will further strengthen Thailand's aviation industry."
The initial objective is to conduct R&D on the Trent XWB-97 engine, which powers the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft that was launched in February.
To ascertain the engine's limitations in usage, continual simulated engine tests are conducted. These tests, in addition to scheduled checks and maintenance, can help improve product quality.
Dominic Horwood, chief customer officer for civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc, said the company entered the Thai market over 50 years ago and the latest partnership marks another milestone.
The collaboration will undertake the full chain of aerospace activities in Thailand, including manufacturing; maintenance, repair and operations (MRO); and development testing.
"Rolls-Royce invests about US$100 million (3.3 billion baht) a year to support the manufacturing supply chain footprint in Thailand," Mr Horwood said.
In 2020, THAI and Rolls-Royce will cooperate on Trent 700 engine maintenance and overhaul, making THAI's facility a certified and authorised engine maintenance centre for Rolls-Royce.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith hailed the cooperative effort between the two countries, saying Thailand's development as an MRO hub would create revenue for THAI.
Last December, THAI and Airbus signed an agreement to assess MRO business opportunities at U-tapao airport in Rayong province.
Development of U-tapao is one of several important projects under the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme. The deal between THAI and Airbus defines the framework of mutual cooperation to determine opportunities related to MRO development.
The fleets operated by carriers in Asia and the Pacific are forecast to more than double in size over the next 20 years, from 6,100 aircraft to almost 17,000.
Airbus estimates that the value of MRO in this region alone will reach $664 billion over the next decade.
This year, THAI began maintaining the Airbus A380 at U-tapao. New hangar facilities are planned to support the growing airport.
The board of Thai Airways International Plc (THAI) has officially appointed Sumeth Damrongchaitham as the new president.
Mr Sumeth's key mission is to turnaround the national carrier from the red.
The former managing director of Dhanarak Asset Management Co, Mr Sumeth started the job on Sept 1, replacing Usanee Sangingkoeaw, who was acting president from February 2017. He is also appointed acting executive vice-president for finance and accounting.
An aviation expert who requested anonymity speculated that Mr Sumeth will focus on revenue management in his turnaround bid.
A source in THAI said Mr Sumeth will continue the current rehabilitation plan and hopes to enhance competitiveness.
The second quarter was part of the low season and airlines saw fierce competition in part from higher global oil prices.
<p>THAI and its subsidiaries reported an operating loss of 2.8 billion baht in the second quarter, up from 965 million the same period last year.
Total revenue was 47.2 billion baht, up by 2 billion or 4.6% from the same quarter of 2017 as passenger and excess baggage revenue rose.
THAI's rehab plan consists of increasing revenues, adopting low-cost business models, transforming business units by seeking new business opportunities and increasing efficiency in asset management.
In June it signed an agreement to establish a new joint venture maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility at U-tapao airport, aiming to develop one of the most advanced MRO centres in the world.
More pilot training centres are required to meet the projected rising demand for aircraft across Asia-Pacific, including Thailand, over the next 20 years, ATR's vice president for training and flight operations, Christian Commissaire, said yesterday.
For ATR aircraft alone, the demand for trained pilots averages at about 1,500 worldwide each year, with up to 700 of them destined for the Asia-Pacific region. This supply of new pilots is needed to keep pace with the company’s delivery of an average of 80 aircraft a year to airlines across the world, Commissaire said in a group interview.
He added that, on average, a newly delivered ATR aircraft requires five pilots and five assistants for air services. Training takes about 24 months at a cost of up US$150,000 per pilot.
With the high cost of training, that limits the supply of qualified pilots to meet the strong demand in the market, Commissaire said.
“We have a training centre in Singapore and Miami in the US, with two in France, and another in Johannesburg, South Africa,” he said. “They can produce an average of 500 new pilots a year, but that is still not enough to the meet the demand for new pilots that averages about 1,500 a year.
“However, we have collaborated with other pilot training centres in the world to train new pilots to help go towards meeting this strong demand.”
According to a survey by aircraft maker Boeing, the commercial airline industry will require 635,000 new pilots over the 20 years from 2017, in response to a doubling in the size of the global aircraft fleet and the record demand for air travel.
Of the total demand for new pilots, up to 261,000 new pilots will be required for Asia-Pacific from 2017 to 2037.
The figure was included in Boeing's 2018-2037 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook published at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh recently.
For Thailand, the country is projected to have more than 55 new aircraft from 2018 to 2037, with Thai Airways International Plc accounting for 28, Bangkok Airways Plc with 20, and Thai Air Asia Co Ltd with seven, according to a recent survey The Nation. This means they need more than 550 new pilots and assistants from this year to 2037.
The airlines will also need more new pilots to replace those who will retire during that period. This demand is based on the assumption of five pilots and assistants for one aircraft.
“Bangkok also has a pilot training centre that have enough capability for the training of new pilots to serve the country's aviation growth,” Commissaire said.
Boeing notes in its Business Environment Update report for 2018 that there are 295,000 active commercial pilots around the world.
More broadly, the 2018-2037 Pilot and Technician Outlook also forecast the need for 96,000 business aviation pilots and 59,000 civil helicopter pilots over the next two decades. The report marks the first time that the Boeing report has offered a view on these two sectors.
In line with the strong projected demand for pilots worldwide, including Asia-Pacific, all players in the aviation sector share a responsibility to ensure there are sufficient training facilities to meet the demand for cockpit crews.
ITALY-based aviation manufacturer ATR is intent on expanding its business in Asia Pacific, seeking a big slice of the forecast demand for up to 1,000 turboprop aircraft in the region over the next 20 years, the company's sales director Laurent Janitza said yesterday.
Janitza said that demand for aviation services in Asia-Pacific would see strong growth, benefiting from increased tourism flows.
He pointed to Thailand’s special position, providing travel linkages to neighbouring countries in the Asean region.
“There have been a number of new routes building on linkages between Thailand and neighbouring countries, including Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia,” he said in a group interview.
“Thailand serves as a hub for Asean countries. As a result, we expect our business will expand in Thailand from now until 2037. However, we cannot estimate our market value in Thailand at this time.”
Janitza said he is encouraged by the government’s policy to develop the U-Tapao International Airport under the ambitious vision for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Recently, the government also announced plans to develop infrastructure and a new international airport in the South. The projects for the Eastern and Southern regions form part of a drive to boost demand for aviation in Thailand and ensure strong growth in this sector, Janitza said.
The company has taken an order to deliver four aircraft to Thai operator Bangkok Airways. This comes under orders it has received for 130 aircraft to be delivered to customers in Asia Pacific from now until 2022, Janitza said.
At present the company has 20 aircraft operating in Thailand.
Janitza added that its parent company Airbus has been expanding its investment to develop a maintenance centre at U-Tapao airport under a collaboration with Thai Airways International Plc. The project in Rayong forms a part of the group’s efforts to support its business in Thailand.
A major stake is held in ATR by Airbus and Leonardo. The company has a production plant in Toulouse in southern France. ATR bills itself as the world leader in the market for regional aircraft of up to 90 seats.
Brisk sales pace
ATR has sold nearly 1,700 aircraft and has more than 200 operators in more than 100 countries.
ATR says its turboprops provide airlines with the best opportunities for operating short-haul routes at a low operating cost. Airlines servicing smaller markets need more fuel efficient-aircraft to continue operating regular flights between regional airports and to main airports and hubs.
For 2017, the company reported turnover of US$1.8 billion.
The company expects to increase its market share in turboprops in Asia-Pacific, especially in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan. This is due to strong demand, boosted by moves in most Asia- Pacific countries to sign agreements for new air routes that will drive the demand for turboprops.
Janitza said the growth in demand for Asia-Pacific would be stronger than that forecast for Europe and the United States.
Indonesia is ATR’s largest market, with 99 aircraft in operation. It is followed by the Philippines with 22 aircraft.
The company has opened a facility housing a customer service centre, a spare parts warehouse and a training centre in Singapore that will support its business in Asia, Janitza said.
Low-cost carriers have changed the face of civil aviation in Asia. In tandem with the rise, the behind-the-scenes market for aircraft maintenance is also changing as companies in countries like Indonesia and Thailand enter the field to challenge the dominance of established Singaporean players.
GMF AeroAsia, the maintenance subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, opened the world's largest maintenance hangar for narrow body aircraft in 2015 at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, the gateway to Indonesia, located outside of Jakarta.
The hangar has space for 16 airplanes. Besides aircraft of Garuda and its low-cost affiliate Citilink, planes of various foreign LCCs, including AirAsia, India's IndiGo and Russia's Nordwind Airlines, are also parked, awaiting servicing.
At the facilities, numerous mechanics wearing blue uniforms work in groups, carrying out tasks for specific portions of the aircraft, such as wings and engines.
"We have a lot of demographic [advantage] with a huge population and young workforce in Indonesia," GMF President and CEO Iwan Joeniarto told the Nikkei Asian Review.
The country's population of 261 million is the largest in Southeast Asia. The average wage of general engineers in Jakarta is one-sixth of their Singaporean counterparts, according to a survey by the Japan External Trade Organization in 2017.
Since aircraft maintenance is a labor-intensive business, Joeniarto said, lower labor costs give the company a competitive advantage over Singapore.
For decades, the commercial aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) market in Southeast Asia has been controlled by leading players in Singapore, the regional aviation hub. These Singaporean companies have been providing maintenance services for airlines both in and outside the region.
But they are now facing more competition from service providers in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
LCCs are the driving force behind the explosive growth of Asia's civil aviation market, but most of them, including such leading players as AirAsia, the region's largest budget carrier, have only minimal maintenance capabilities and outsource most of the work to companies affiliated with rivals or independent service providers.
Commercial aircraft are required to be inspected and maintained after every flight and overhauled every few years.
Since the aircraft generate no profits while they are being maintained, airlines, especially budget carriers, value quick and efficient turnaround, which can be achieved by intensive use of manpower. This means opportunities for cost-competitive players.
GMF's Joeniarto said the growth potential of Indonesia's domestic airline market thanks to the country's configuration -- a long chain of islands scattered over a wide area -- is also a big boon to the company's business prospects.
GMF plans to spend $400 million in the next five years to expand its maintenance facilities with a strong focus on narrow body aircraft, the popular aircraft type among LCCs. The company, which currently operates four maintenance hangars at Soekarno-Hatta airport, will open new facilities on the Indonesian island of Batam, close to Singapore, in 2019.
The island's wage levels are even lower than in Jakarta and its location is closer to key markets, including Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.
GMF plans to open new maintenance facilities in South Korea and the United Arab Emirates as well, through joint ventures with local partners. To maintain cost competitiveness, Joeniarto said its overseas sites will also use Indonesian mechanics that have trained and worked in Jakarta.
In Asia's airline industry, the rise of LCCs has sharply intensified price competition, creating a harsh business environment for major full-service carriers like Garuda, which fell into the red in 2017.
These companies are now seeking to capitalize on the growth of no-frills rivals through the maintenance business. "We want to follow Lufthansa," Joeniarto said. With a sizable business with non-affiliated airlines, Lufthansa's MRO unit accounted for roughly 15% of overall revenue in 2017, the second-largest source after passenger revenue of its group airlines.
Japan's ANA Holdings will jump on the bandwagon by launching maintenance services at Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture, close to Asia, in 2019.
Thai Airways International, Thailand's national flag carrier, which also reported losses in 2017, is banking on the expanding MRO market too.
In June, it agreed with Airbus to open a maintenance location within the Eastern Economic Corridor, a special economic zone on the coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Total investment is to be around 11 billion baht ($329 million).
Also in June, Thai Airways was certified by Rolls-Royce as an authorized center to do MRO on the British firm's Trent engines. Thai Airways will not only be serving engines of its own fleet but also those of rival carriers at Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok's LCC hub.
Meanwhile, Singaporean maintenance powerhouses are turning to state-of-the-art technology such as automation to offer high-quality maintenance and keep their competitive edge.
The aerospace arm of Singapore Technologies Engineering, the world's largest airframe maintenance provider, has started testing unmanned vehicles that fly over aircraft to detect airframe problems such as cracks, stains and scratches.
In a pilot program with Air New Zealand, the company has also started producing spare parts for in-flight equipment such as cup holders and seat tables using 3D printing. This reduces the time to replace broken parts and cost of inventory.
"We want to do more with less people," ST Aerospace President Lim Serh Ghee said. He stressed that the company is pursuing higher efficiency instead of lower labor costs. It also wants to provide "high-value" services to its clients, such as converting retired passenger aircraft to freighters.
In 2017, Singapore Aero Engine Services, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines' MRO arm SIA Engineering and Rolls-Royce, established a new research and development body jointly with Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research.
With an investment of up to 60 million Singapore dollars ($43 million), the joint lab will conduct a five-year study of automation and digital technologies for next-generation aerospace manufacturing and MRO capabilities.
"Labor is expensive in Singapore, but skills and capabilities far outweigh that cost ratio," said Bicky Bhangu, president of Rolls-Royce for South East Asia, Pacific and South Korea. He added that Singapore's existing ecosystem -- Rolls-Royce has an engine manufacturing facility there -- also means greater efficiency in MRO operations.
The expansion of the MRO market is in response to a rapid increase in the number of aircraft operating in the region.
Some 40% of the world's new aircraft deliveries during the 2018 to 2037 period, estimated at 42,000 planes, will come from the Asia-Pacific region, according to Boeing.
Southeast Asian LCCs are expected to be large buyers, adding to airlines of the two emerging giants of China and India. That spells robust growth in demand for airframe and engine maintenance services in the region.
Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm, predicts that MRO spending in Asia, excluding China, will reach $27.1 billion in 2027, up 55% from 2017.
Southeast Asia will account for 40% of that, with Indonesia and Thailand leading the upward trend by growing nearly 100% to surpass Singapore and become the region's two largest markets.
If these countries fail to expand their domestic maintenance capabilities, domestic airlines will have to outsource the services to providers outside the countries. Already in 2017, 60% of aircraft maintenance services for Thai carriers was provided by foreign companies.
The Thai government is taking steps to change this situation by promoting the domestic maintenance industry, including generous tax incentives modeled on Singapore's program.
In a bid to speed up development, the Eastern Economic Corridor of Digital (EECD), one of the flagship developments under the government's much-touted EEC scheme, will be developed under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.
According to Kanit Sangsubhan, secretary-general of the EEC Office, Friday's EEC Committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved the PPP plan for the EECD.
The scale of investment for the new industrial estate for digital business has yet to be finalised.
Mr Kanit said the private sector will bid to develop and handle the EECD and will be allowed to screen investment projects and take charge of the investment.
The terms of reference (ToR) for the EECD are expected to be completed by November or December this year, with the bidding process set to begin early next year.
In a related development, the EEC Office reported that investment applications for the EEC during the first half of the year totalled 142 projects worth 183 billion baht.
The EEC Office is confident that investment applications for the EEC will exceed the 300-billion-baht target this year.
Actual investment is expected to account for more than 60% of the applications, Mr Kanit said.
According to Mr Kanit, the committee on Friday also approved the selection of a new secretary-general for the EEC Office, as required under the EEC Act, which will be enacted in May.
Mr Kanit was appointed under Section 44. However, Mr Kanit is highly likely to be reappointed as new secretary-general of EEC Office, as he is one of three candidates.
Mr Kanit said he wants to continue working for the EEC Office, citing many significant infrastructure projects that are being processed, including the high-speed rail network to link three airports, the aerotropolis, the third phase of the Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut ports and the maintenance repair overhaul (MRO) facility at U-tapao airport.
Mr Kanit said the committee on Friday also acknowledged the progress of significant projects in the EEC, including the high-speed rail route linking the three airports.
The ToR for the high-speed train project has been purchased by 31 companies from seven countries.
The EEC Office is expected to announce the winning bidder in January next year. The high-speed train connecting the airports will begin operations after five years.
The committee on Friday also approved the extension of high-speed rail to reach Trat province.
According to Mr Kanit, the MRO project is expected to call for bids by next September, while the third phase of the Laem Chabang and Map Ta Phut ports is expected to be won by bidders in February 2019.
In a separate development, Usanee Sangsingkeo, acting president of Thai Airways International Plc (THAI), said the company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Royal Thai Navy and EEC Office on Wednesday to let THAI operate at U-tapao airport.
Under the MoU, the EEC Office, which owns EEC, and the Royal Thai Navy, which manages the EEC area, will hand over authority for THAI to operate and provide services at the MRO facility, known as TG MRO Campus, that will be constructed at U-tapao.
Once the project receives approval in principle from the EEC Office and the cabinet, THAI and the EEC Office will enter into an agreement to establish leasing conditions and benefits, compensation, and rights and responsibilities.
The MRO at U-tapao is planned as a cutting-edge facility for the commercial aviation industry.
Services will range from ramps handling technical maintenance and various type of aircraft maintenance, fully equipped with the most modern technology, and auditing that will be able to analyse and forecast aircraft maintenance tasks.
The TG MRO Campus will be equipped with smart hangars that will reduce costs and be eco-friendly, including an aircraft engineer training school that paves the way for a strong future for aviation and aircraft maintenance in Southeast Asia.
Admiral Naris Pratumsuwan, Commander-in-Chief, Royal Thai Navy, Mr. Chokchai Panyayong, Deputy Secretary-General, Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO), and Mrs. Usanee Sangsingkeo, Acting President, Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI), together signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that grants THAI the rights to operate at U-Tapao International Airport in the Eastern Special Development Zone.
Also present at the MOU Signing Ceremony in the Banquet Room at the Royal Thai Navy, Wang Nantha Utthayan area, were Admiral Sophon Wattanamongkol, President of the Royal Thai Navy Advisory Group, Flying Officer Chalermpol Intarawong, Director of the Infrastructure Office, Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO), Mr. Surachai Piencharoensak, THAI Executive Vice President, Technical Department, Mr. Ekniti Nitithanprapas, THAI Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Flight Lieutenant Kanok Thongpurk, THAI Executive Vice President, Legal Management and General Administration.
Mrs. Usanee Sangsingkeo, THAI Acting President, said that the MOU with the Royal Thai Navy which allows THAI to operate at U-Tapao International Airport in the Eastern Special Development Zone. The MOU agreement results from the feasibility study and analysis that was conducted on the Aircraft Maintenance Center that will be constructed at U-Tapao International Airport, the outcome of which will be used as part of the agreement in principle for its eventual establishment.
At the MOU signing ceremony, the Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO), which holds ownership of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), and the Royal Thai Navy, as the entity that manages the EEC area, handed over the authority for THAI to operate and provide services at the TG MRO Campus that will be constructed at U-Tapao International Airport. The TG MRO Campus, a pioneer project in the EEC area of vital importance to Thailand, is the result of successful cooperative efforts between THAI and the government sector.
Once the project receives approval in principle from the Eastern Economic Corridor Policy Committee and the Cabinet, THAI and the Eastern Economic Corridor Office (EECO) will enter into an agreement to establish leasing conditions and benefits, compensation, as well as rights and responsibilities. The agreement will enable the TG MRO Campus project to move forward according to laws and regulations concerned.
The Aircraft Maintenance Center at U-Tapao International Airport will be one of the most modern in the commercial aviation industry, with growth capacity for the next 20 years, technical services that are on time, suitable prices, high quality and safety, based on the concept “On Time, On Cost, On Quality.” Services will range from ramp handling technical maintenance and various type of aircraft maintenance, fully equipped with the most modern technology and auditing that will be able to analyze and forecast aircraft maintenance tasks. The TG MRO Campus will be equipped with a state-of-the-art Smart Hangar that will reduce costs and be environmentally conscious, including an aircraft engineer training school that paves the way for a strong future for aviation and aircraft maintenance in Southeast Asia.
AIRBUS and Thai Airways International (THAI) have signed an agreement to establish a new joint venture maintenance and overhaul (MRO) facility at U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong province.
The accord was signed on Friday at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse by Usanee Sangsingkeo, acting president of THAI, and Eric Schulz, chief commercial officer of Airbus, in the presence of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Also on hand was Guillaume Faury, president of Airbus Commercial Aircraft.
The new MRO will be one of the most modern and extensive in the Asia-Pacific region, offering heavy maintenance and line services for all widebody aircraft types. The facility will feature the latest digital technologies to analyse aircraft maintenance data, as well as advanced inspection techniques, including the use of drones to monitor aircraft airframes.
The MRO complex will also have specialised repair shops, including for composite structures, as well as a maintenance training centre offering extensive courses for technical personnel from Thailand and overseas.
“THAI and Airbus have undertaken extensive studies to validate the business plan for this exciting project,” said Usanee. “Together we will develop one of the most advanced and efficient aircraft maintenance centres anywhere in the world. We are confident that this venture will bring significant economic benefit for THAI and will be a major driver in the development of the wider aerospace sector in Thailand.”
Faury said: “We are pleased to enter into this major agreement with THAI. This will further strengthen the long-term partnership between our two companies and also contribute to the success of Thailand’s new eastern economic zone. With the fleet of widebody aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region set to triple to around 4,800 aircraft over the next 20 years, the project represents a sound business opportunity for both our companies.”
Schulz said: “This latest agreement further consolidates our long and special partnership with THAI. This dates back to 1977, when THAI became one of our earliest customers. Since that time Thai has operated every single Airbus type and today flies the complete current widebody family – the A330, the A350 and the A380.”The joint venture between Airbus and THAI will be located at U-Tapao airport in the heart of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). The EEC is a core part of the government’s Thailand 4.0 policy, designed to develop world class innovative technology-based manufacturing and services in the country.
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