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Sep 07, 2007

Government support required to grow aerospace industry

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Creating a skills base which fuels growth, and incubating the technologies that will support South Africa’s growing relevance in the international aeropsace arena are the main challenges for South Africa’s aerospace industry, says private-sector aviation company Aerosud MD Paul Potgieter.

He says that the transition in aerospace from an era of protected supply for a captive local client, to global supply in a competitive market, is now an established fact. He maintains that growing government initiatives around local raw materials beneficiation, by increasing local added value and export of finished products, as opposed to the export of raw materials, will add impetus to South Africa’s own aerospace transition. Owing to this need, he expects to soon see the announcement of exciting new projects around impor-tant aviation materials, such as fibres, aluminium and titanium.

The decline in past investment in local aviation development programmes has deprived the new generation South Africans of engineering exposure and technological growth, says Potgieter. However, he notes, a series of new programmes are already in progress, with Aersosud’s recently created Industrial Training Centre (ITC) in partnership with the Department of Science and Technology, the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy, the National Aerospace Centre of Excellence and the Department of Trade and Industry. He adds that the ITC is increasingly proving to be an ideal venue to stimu- late learning, technology and innovative thinking, in close proximity to an applied engineering environment.

South African companies’ aerospace standards are closely matching those of their international counterparts, Potgieter comments. This is evident in the fact that more than 95% of Aerosud’s turnover is derived from international contracts from key original-equipment manu- facturers, such as Boeing and Airbus. Further, Aerosud’s parts, which are in daily use on new-production aircraft such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, are being installed in the new Airbus A400M military transport, and Potgieter expects that the same applies for Denel Aerostructures, which is another significant local aerospace manufacturing organisation.

None of this would be possible without South African companies having full conformity with inter- national quality standards, and without being subject to all appropriate process accreditations, Potgieter notes.

He asserts that government is doing enough to promote and sup-port the local aviation industry. He says that, while initiatives such as the Industrial Participation (offset) Programme should not be seen as a ‘free breakfast’ for local industry, these initiatives have been an indispensable leverage for market access. Increasing credibility and further incentives through initiatives such as the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative and the Centurion Aerospace Village will add impetus to this process, he adds.

Focusing on manufacture primarily for the commercial aviation industry in South Africa, and greater participation through risk sharing in new international programmes, will fuel local design and manufacture, says Potgieter. He adds, however, that it would be foolish to overlook the potential for indigenous aviation products in the long term.

Edited by: Laura Tyrer
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