The world wants to fly, and consumers worldwide are increasingly travelling more and enjoying low air fares offered by carriers. As we move into 2018, the dynamic aerospace sector continues to expand to cater to the global rapid growth in the travel sector. By Farah Nazurah
What is driving the demand for air travel? Higher living standards, a burgeoning middle class in emerging markets, cheaper air fares as well as tourism and travel growth are propelling the market, with year-on-year travel growth rates for the past five years averaging 6.2 percent, according to aircraft manufacturer Boeing’s market outlook on the global aircraft demand from 2017 to 2036.
International tourist arrivals grew 3.9 percent worldwide in 2016, which was faster than overall global gross domestic product (GDP) growth, according to the World Tourism Organisation. In 2016, the strongest regional growth was recorded in Asia Pacific.
Asia Awakens To Travel
The outlook for air travel demand is expected to remain strong with consumers spending more on travel and tourism, according to aircraf t manufacturer Bombardier’s market forecast for 2017 to 2036. In terms of growth rate, South Asia and Greater China are projected to be the fastest growing markets, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7 percent and 4.6 percent respectively.
The economic and income growth in large emerging economies such as China and India are major drivers to the global GDP growth and air travel demand. China has fuelled the world traffic growth over the past few years and its passenger growth has increased at an average rate of more than 10 percent annually, according to Boeing.
India’s newly-emerged high-growth economy is contributing to more than 20 percent of passenger traffic growth per year in its domestic market, and is projected to become the third largest commercial aviation market by the early 2020s.
The fast-growing middle class in both countries are ready to spend more on air travel, and the middle class in both countries has risen from 80 million in 2000 to 135 million in 2016, which is an increase of nearly 70 percent.
Fast Expanding MRO Market
As air travel grows, consequently the need for aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) expands as well. MRO providers play an essential role in sustaining the world’s airline fleets, and assuring aircraft safety and airworthiness.
The global aircraft MRO market reached US$66 billion in 2016, and is projected to rise at a CAGR of 6.17 percent from 2018 to 2023, according to market intelligence agency Research and Markets. The ever-expanding global aircraft fleet size and market for low-cost carriers, alongside the stronger demand for technological upgrades of existing fleet, are expected to propel the global MRO market in the next five years.
The number of aircraft in service is increasing, driven by a higher penetration of commercial carriers in the world’s emerging economies and orders for new aircraft thus, steering the aircraft MRO market in an upward momentum.
Asia Pacific is witnessing a significant rise in daily air traffic, owing to the growing number of MRO facility establishments in the region. China, India, Japan, and South Korea are a few of the leading countries in the region’s commercial aviation market, and the region’s MRO market is forecast to amount to US$30.48 billion by the end of 2022, according to market research firm Research and Markets. This creates ample opportunity for MRO providers to expand in the region.
Singapore’s Substantial Role In MRO
What exact role does Singapore play in the aircraft MRO sector? The country’s aerospace industry has stringent safety and quality standards, which sees it recognised as a reliable one-stop solutions provider for aircraft maintenance and repair needs.
This includes nose-to-tail capabilities such as engine overhaul, structural and avionics systems repair, airframe maintenance, as well as aircraft modifications and conversion.
“With more than 130 aerospace companies, Singapore has the largest and most diverse concentration of aerospace companies in Asia,” informed Tan Kong Hwee, executive director of transport engineering, Singapore Economic Development Board. The country has developed a robust aerospace industry that includes manufacturing, engineering, research and development, MRO, and other aerospace-related services.
Employing over 20,000 staff, the sector has an annual output of more than US$6 billion. The nation currently holds 25 percent of Asia’s MRO market and approximately 10 percent of the global share. The reason airliners tend to choose the country for their MRO needs is because they can have all their work done in a “one-stop shop,” instead of having to get their aircraft serviced in several different locations.
Cost is an especially important factor in the aerospace industry; although MRO costs are higher in Singapore, the aircraft can be serviced faster. For example, an aircraft serviced in Singapore for 30 days as compared to 50 days elsewhere translates to cost savings for airliners, as the aircraft can generate profits for those 20 extra days of uptime.
Support Spurring Innovation
The Singapore government’s commitment to maintain a free market also enables businesses to easily operate in the country. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 report, Singapore is ranked as the world’s second-easiest country in which to do business after New Zealand.
Moreover, the country’s skilled workforce, political stability, established logistics, infrastructure and protection of intellectual property facilitates the ease for aerospace providers to set up business there.
“Government support is also crucial to the efficiency of the logistics and supply chain activities which support the MRO sector,” said Louis Leong, vice president, Asia, Hawker Pacific Asia. He also stated that the Singapore government is also heavily supporting the development of local talent in the aerospace industry through partnerships with education institutions.
Besides MRO, aerospace-related research and development activities in Singapore have grown significantly over the past few years. The nation will have to advance further in this field to maintain its edge in the industry, and continue developing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies such as aircraft health monitoring where sensors monitor temperature, position and pressure; predictive maintenance; and the use of drones, robots and virtual reality in MRO.
An example of a joint venture leveraging on IIoT is Rolls Royce, a provider of aerospace power systems. The manufacturer partnered with Singapore Aero Engine Services Private Limited as well as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore in September last year. The partnership saw an investment of US$45 million, which will operate a joint lab for five years to develop advanced manufacturing technologies for the aerospace industry.
“Singapore has also seen a steady increase in aerospace manufacturing activities, with some of the most complex engine and avionics parts produced in Singapore,” stated Mr Tan.
Thailand’s Emerging Aerospace Industry
Thailand is seeking greater market share in Southeast Asia’s aerospace sector, and aims to duplicate the success of its automotive industry, which is the 12th largest in the world. To develop itself into a full-service aerospace hub, the country is leveraging on its strategic location, low labour costs, and expanding network of free trade agreements.
Air passenger traffic has been growing in Thailand, due to the upward trend in country’s tourism industry. The airports managed by Airports of Thailand (AOT) handled 121.7 million passengers in 2016, an increase from 109.8 million passengers in 2015, according to the leading operator at AOT. There were a total of 790,194 aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) in 2016 as compared to 727,750 in 2015.
In the next 20 years, it is expected that 42 percent of the 32,146 global aircraft deliveries will be in Asia Pacific, according to market intelligence agency Frost & Sullivan. This results from the exponential growth of passenger traffic that will increase from 60 million unique passengers in 2017 to 180 million unique passengers by the end of 2037. In Thailand, the amount of total aircraft is projected to almost triple from 314 aircraft in 2017 to 811 aircraft by 2037.
The Thai government is sparing no effort to achieve their goal to be an MRO hub. To accelerate investment, the nation has implemented the “Super- Cluster” program that allows companies to be eligible for eight-year corporate tax exemptions and an additional five-year reduction of 50 percent, provided they are in the designated cluster areas. The country also has aviation schools that offer courses for engineers, technicians and mechanics.
Thailand’s transport ministry has also commenced a development plan that started in 2017 and will last until 2031, with the plan divided into three phases. The first phase between 2017 and 2021 will see Thai Airways building a new MRO centre; the second phase will focus on the continued expansion of the centre until 2026; and the third phase will target the expansion of the nation’s aviation design and manufacturing capabilities. Moreover, the Thai government has also initiated a US$5.7 billion plan to transform its U-Tapao airport into an MRO centre.
The airport is located 140 km southeast of the nation’s capital city, Bangkok, and will start operations by 2026. The country currently has six MRO providers servicing the aerospace industry, but industry experts said it would take at least a decade to put the necessary infrastructure in place before the country can be on the same footing as Singapore’s MRO sector.
These government-led initiatives could create a US$30.8 million industry as well as 7,500 jobs, according to officials from the Thai government. Additionally, it could reduce the cost of the annual maintenance for local airlines by US$20 million over 30 years.
Big Data: Advancing Aerospace MRO
As more highly connected next-generation aircraft enter the world’s fleets in the next 20 years, MRO providers and original equipment manufacturers are adopting strategies to collect the right information from the vast amount of data gathered through IIoT technologies. The aerospace MRO sector operates on thin profit margins, and MRO providers are under continuous pressure to be as efficient as possible—big data enables providers to improve operational efficiency and minimise downtime.
“As an SME, we must also start to take advantage of Industry 4.0 technologies to improve our utilisation and productivity,” stated Soh Chee Siong, chief executive officer of JEP Precision Engineering—a manufacturer of Inconel and titanium products for the aerospace industry— at the launch of their smart factory in Singapore in November 2017.
“More so in Singapore’s context, where the labour market is tight and operating cost is increasing, we must transform the company using this technology, and create a more data-driven environment so that decisions can be made efficiently and effectively,” added Mr Soh.
All About The Data
Numerous opportunities are available in the MRO sector that leverage on big data to enable services such as predictive analytics, improved monitoring of usage patterns, or tracking and anaylsing the health of equipment in real-time. Centralising information is also essential—a central database needs to store all the vital data and link them back to the source files to ensure that all updates are automatically delivered to staff.
Planning, part tracking, and visit packaging of scheduled routine maintenance are important in the MRO environment. Thus, MRO providers need to ensure the integration of a content authoring/publishing system into an MRO data management tool which will provide significant added value. With the capability of authoring routine and non-routine job cards directly from the data collection environment, maintenance activities can be efficiently created based on established maintenance schedules and then be tracked according to the company’s needs.
In today’s advancing digital era, it is essential to create value with the information gathered through IIoT technologies, especially so for emerging economies that want to garner momentum in the aerospace MRO sector.