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
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.