Paris Air Show

Sonaca on the cutting edge of wings

 - December 13, 2006, 7:44 AM

What do the Airbus A380, Embraer 195 and Falcon 7X have in common, apart from being on display for the first time here at the Paris Air Show this week? They share the same supplier of their wings’ leading edges.

Sonaca, a 27-year-old Belgian aerospace company born from the ashes of Fairey Aviation, specializes in the design and manufacturing of wing leading edges and other related aerospace structures for large commercial aircraft, regional and business jets. The government of the Walloon Region, in the southern part of Belgium, holds 83.4 percent of the company’s stock.

Sonaca’s consolidated revenues rose by 40 percent to €248.8 million ($306 million) last year. As of January 2005, Sonaca employed 2,308 people, including 1,890 at its main plant and headquarters at Charleroi-Gosselies Airport, near Brussels.

Managing director Christian Jacqmin has diversified Sonaca  internationally, starting in 2000 with the creation of its Sobraer subsidiary in Brazil. In 2003 he oversaw the creation of Sonaca North America, following the acquisition of NMF in Canada. More recently, in April, Sonaca and partners in Brazil established two new companies. Sonaca embarked on the plan not only to gain new customers and markets, but to move some of its production to countries with a lower labor cost and/or to dollar-based economies.

From F-16 to Airbus

After long existing as a defense-oriented business, mainly through its participation in the Lockheed Martin F-16 and C-130 programs, Sonaca formed a relationship with Airbus in the early 1980s. It became the single source designer and supplier of the wing leading edge slats for all Airbus types from the A310 onwards, including the A340-500 and -600 and, most recently, the A380. The company also operates an approved Airbus Repair Station and carries experience in composite and honeycomb sandwich structure repairs.

In addition to the provision of the slat track system for the A380 wings developed and produced in cooperation with fellow Belgian companies Asco and Eurair, Sonaca has assumed responsibility for the nose upper shell structure. More recently, Sonaca won the contract for development and production of fixed- and moveable-wing leading edges of the Dassault Falcon 7X business jet.

Embraer Risk-Sharing partner

Sonaca also holds a strong position in the area of regional airliners, mainly through the Embraer ERJ 145 program. In 1994 the company decided to become a risk-sharing partner in the 50-seat regional jet program. It subsequently joined the 37-seat ERJ 135 and 44-seat ERJ 140 programs.

For the 145, Sonaca produces two major sections of the fuselage, including floor frames, pressure bulkheads, doors and engine pylons. Sonaca also designed and produces the wing leading edge and its anti-icing system. For the larger Embraer 170/190 family, Sonaca makes the wing leading edges, center fuselage panels and other subassemblies.

Sonaca’s ties with Embraer led to the creation of Sobraer in Brazil. In April this year, Sobraer formed a joint venture with Airbus and China’s Eletra to create a new company, Sopeçaero, which will produce parts of small aluminum plates (up to four feet in length) previously imported from Belgium and assembled at the Sobraer plant in Embraer’s home town São José dos Campos. It also created Pesola with Latécoère do Brazil for the production of small machined parts.