High-tech in Asia: Aviation flies high on the wings of digitali­zation

Leading the race: Driven by rapid passenger growth, investment in devel­opment, production and MRO from the West, plus the inno­vative capacity of Asian busi­nesses, the aviation market in Asia is booming.

02.2018 | Text: Melanie Wolf

Melanie Wolf works in MTU’s Corporate Communications department and reports on topics including commercial and military engine programs, plus inter­national market trends and sites. She joined the company in 2012.

Asia’s aviation market is booming, of that there is no doubt. And the region has set its sights firmly on knocking the U.S. off the top spot as the global market leader in the next ten years. Its chances are better than ever before, driven by three decisive factors: above-aver­age growth in pas­sen­ger traffic, increasing invest­ment in avi­ation in Asian eco­nomic regions from Western investors and the rapidly expanding inno­vative capa­bility of Asian busi­nesses and start-ups in the avi­ation industry.

Booming market for passenger traffic

No region in the world will grow faster than Asia in terms of pas­sen­ger traffic in the next 20 years. This assump­tion is based on forecasts by air­framers Boeing and Air­bus, both of which are expecting the highest demand for new air­craft to come from Asia in the next two decades. The world’s ten fastest-growing regions include five countries in the Far East alone. Based on current fleet size, China takes the lead on this count, followed by India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Some 7,000 com­mer­cial air­craft are in service in Asia today, and this figure looks set to rise to over 17,000 by 2036—which equates to the combined size of the European and U.S. fleets.

2016 yearly capacity growth in volume (billion available seat kilometres) and growth rate

2016 yearly capacity growth in volume (billion available seat kilometres) and growth rate

An investment in efficiency

A new supply-chain strategy, targeted primarily at gains in effi­ciency, has resulted in an increasing tendency for the Western avi­ation industry to transfer work to the Far East. Specifically, this means that manu­facturers are relocating more and more pro­duction and devel­opment activ­ities to Asia. What is note­worthy about this shift is that it is expected to affect pro­duction sites and devel­opment capa­cities in equal measure. Until now, the as­sump­tion was that pro­duction would be per­formed at loca­tions abroad at a signifi­cantly lower cost, while devel­opment work remained in Europe.

Today, however, it’s the efficiency of a site or plant that takes prec­edence. The digital trans­for­mation currently sweeping aviation and other branches of industry is accel­erating the shift. Investors are chan­neling huge sums of money into digi­talization in Asia, first and fore­most to secure the future of main­tenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and pro­duction—with a focus on devel­oping and imple­menting intelligent manu­facturing processes for the coming decades. Countries in Asia reco­gnize the need for highly qualified person­nel to do this and are investing in research and training facilities that specialize in digi­talization, automation, robotics and sensors.

MTU Aero Engines identified the region’s potential early on and wasted no time in estab­lishing a presence there. It now has two suc­cess­ful joint ventures in Asia, both of which are growing and will continue to invest in the expansion of their portfolios, state-of-the-art machin­ery and highly qualified person­nel over the coming years. Malaysia-based Air­foil Services Sdn. Bhd. (ASSB) is a joint venture between MTU Aero Engines and Luft­hansa Technik, both companies holding an equal stake. For more than 25 years, ASSB has supported over 80 customers world­wide and offers a wide range of repair services for engine airfoils. Its core compe­tency is the repair of high-pres­sure com­pressor and low-pres­sure turbine air­foils for engines that power long-, short- and medium-haul air­craft. ASSB employs a work­force of more than 450 people who together over­haul some 450,000 compo­nents a year. In 2017, ASSB increased its repair capa­city by 35 percent—a new record in its history. And the company plans to expand further, which is why ASSB is continuing to invest in its local infra­structure and the recruit­ment of new employees.

MTU Maintenance Zhuhai has enjoyed similar success since its launch 15 years ago. Today, the company is at the cutting edge of engine repair in China and plans to expand in the next few years to become the largest provider of com­mercial MRO services in Asia. The chances are good; after all, the company has doubled its earnings in the last five years alone. To meet increasing demand, especially from the Asian MRO market, MTU enlarged the site at the end of 2012, increasing capa­city by 50 per­cent from 200 to 300 shop visits a year. High-tech plays a pivotal role in Zhuhai, where person­nel work with state-of-the-art tools and equip­ment. They use high-tech repair methods for which MTU Main­tenance, one of the world’s largest providers of main­tenance services for com­mercial aircraft engines, is renowned. Located in South China in the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone on the Pearl River Delta, the company benefits from its proximity to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau—an excellent setting and spring­board from which to become Asia’s leading MRO provider.

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