North Africa Aerospace Hubs Tempt Europe With Low Costs

 - June 13, 2013, 12:50 PM
Bombardier has started training staff in Morocco with a view to establishing a facility that will produce items such as flight controls for its CRJ family of regional airliners.

The aerospace industries in Morocco and Tunisia still tend to be viewed as embryonic by some Westerners, but the North African countries are starting to capitalize on the desire by European companies to move production offshore and take advantage of the close proximity to these low-cost economies. Both countries have made a commitment to develop an investment framework promoting local jobs, and opportunities for international companies, and this is paying dividends with the constant creation of new aerospace concerns. Although the IT and technological resources are sometimes low, the growth of special economic zones devoted to the aerospace industry in both countries presages development that looks set to become more sophisticated over time.

In Morocco, Royal Air Maroc’s decision to relocate its head office to Casablanca Airport in 2004 heralded the growth of Aéropole Nouaceur, the industrial zone located adjacent to the airport. This has become a focal point for Western OEMs wanting to tap the potential of North Africa to contribute to their programs.

In February, Bombardier announced the opening of a “transitional facility” in Morocco to train 18 aircraft assemblers at the Mohammed V International Airport in Nouaceur. A larger, permanent base is to open nearby shortly, where Bombardier intends to produce items including flight controls for its CRJ Series aircraft. “By year-end, the facility is expected to employ approximately 100 fully trained aircraft assemblers,” the company said.

“This is a very exciting milestone for us as we start to see our operation in Morocco take form,” said Hugo Brouillard, general manager of newly formed Bombardier Aerospace Morocco. “With 18 new local employees engaged and trained in the Bombardier manufacturing process and philosophy, this is the first step toward a long[-term] future of quality component manufacturing at another world-class Bombardier facility.”

The Casablanca-Nouaceur Aeronautics Free Zone acts as home to several other companies. In 2001, Boeing created a joint venture with Royal Air Maroc and Labinal Snecma Group to manufacture wire bundles. The company is known as Morocco Aero-Technical Interconnect Systems (Matis) and has a manufacturing facility there. In the decade since its establishment, Matis’s headcount has risen from 75 to more than 500. In 2011, Royal Air Maroc divested its Matis shares to focus on its core airline business, and Boeing now owns 50 percent of the joint venture with Labinal, which supplies wiring systems for several global OEMs.

In 2005, Labinal became a subsidiary of French aerospace group Safran. In 2008, Airbus selected Labinal’s new Toulouse facility for the production of 80 percent of the A380 electrical harnesses.

Boeing also carries out flight and maintenance training at a complex in Casablanca. This is conducted through CasaAero, a joint venture formed in 2005 between Royal Air Maroc and Boeing Flight Services.

Prompted by a 2010 contracted placed by Royal Air Maroc with Safran’s engine making subsidiary Snecma to support its CFM56-7B engines, the airline and Snecma established an engine MRO joint venture called Snecma Morocco Engine Services (SMES). It also is based in Casablanca and also works on the CFM56-3 and CFM56-5B engines.

Separately, SERMP (Société d’Etude et Réalisation de Mécanique de Précision) has 120 employees and has been located at Aéropole Nouaceur since 2005. The French-backed company produces precision-machined parts in titanium, aluminum and other metals. The parts are used in structural parts and assemblies for aircraft, housing, brakes and door fittings. Major customers for the operation include Messier Bugatti-Dowty and Snecma. Company revenues are expected to reach almost $12 million this year. It is also contributing to Snecma’s efforts to develop the Silvercrest turbofan for business aircraft.

The Dassault group also appears to have set its sights on Morocco. Its Dassault Systèmes IT subsidiary has a local partner called Adhesium Technologies, which is involved in developing software for product life cycle management.

Moroccan aerospace industry group GIMAS acts as an umbrella organization for several players in the nascent industry, helping Casablanca to become the focus of the aviation industry in the kingdom. It boasts some 70 members, all engaged in facets of the component manufacturing and aerospace services industry.

Both GIMAS and the Moroccan government’s inward investment agency, Agence Marocaine de Developpement des Investissements, are heading up the Moroccan presence at this year’s Paris Air Show (Hall 2b Stand F93).

Tunisia Takes Off

As with Morocco, links old and new to France predominate in North Africa’s smallest country, Tunisia. Because Tunis-Carthage International Airport is located in a congested area of the capital, development of support industries has taken place in the nearby towns of Sulayman and Zaghouan. Tunisia’s Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) claims that the aerospace industry has created more than 4,500 jobs, and it will generate revenues of €250 million by 2016 from some 55 companies.

With its expertise and experience in the electrical and electronics industries, Tunisia today plays host to more than 50 companies manufacturing products and components for the aerospace industry. French firms like Anjou Électronique, Latecoere, Safran Group and Zodiac Group have local operations producing electric and electronic components in the country for Airbus, Boeing, Eurocopter, Dassault, Embraer and Bombardier.

Tunisia’s steadily weakening currency, which has lost 15 percent of its value in the past three years, means that its exports are increasingly competitive on the international market.

Tunisian industry group GITAS (Hall 2b Stand D50) represents the country’s growing aerospace sector. It promotes the supply chain’s new and existing companies, fosters exchange among domestic firms and speaks for the industry in its dealings with government. Today the association acts as an umbrella for around 40 concerns, which provide machining and precision mechanics, assembly, electronics and engineering.

The M’Ghira industrial zone, located in a suburb to the south of Tunis, covers an area of almost 500 acres and already about 10 percent of this is dedicated to aerospace. Many of the early occupants are involved in logistics.

EADS subsidiary Aerolia has chosen Tunisia to establish a fourth site specializing in making aircraft components, its first outside France. The company owns 100 percent of local subsidiary Aerolia Tunisie, which produces subassemblies and draws on a local network of subcontractors. It expects to employ a total of 750 people in Tunisia by 2014.

The 107,000-sq-ft facility, located at M’Ghira, will see €30 million invested over five years. Aerolia created the Tunisian subsidiary in 2009 and it specializes in producing nose fuselage sections and other aerostructures for Airbus.

Airbus itself plans to expand its facilities at M’Ghira. Last year, CEO Fabrice Brégier met with Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Jebali to discuss the project and planned expansion of the European group’s local facilities. The Tunisian government is to provide infrastructure for the project.

Meanwhile, France’s Zodiac Group has three main aviation business units with facilities in Tunisia in the shape of aicraft component makers Zodiac Seats Tunisie and Zodiac Equipments Tunisie. Based in Sulayman, around 25 miles from Tunis, the company manufactures seats and  wiring, plus electrical transformers and converters.

“What encouraged most our development in Tunisia is the [educational] level of people with qualifications that are almost equal to those of Europe, their ability to be trained, and their capacity to respect very specific work instructions of the aerospace industry,” Gaby Lopez, Zodiac’s director general for Tunisian operations recently told FIPA. “In Tunisia we have found very high-level engineers, managers and technicians, effective import-export logistics, slow-growing labor costs, a network of local suppliers in various areas and simplified customs procedures.”