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Moroccan Aerospace Cluster Strives for 'World-Class' Performance

 - November 14, 2019, 6:00 AM
Though the sign on the outside is due to change to Spirit Aerosystems, the inside of Bombardier’s Casablanca manufacturing facility remains a dynamic, innovative crucible.

With the October 31 announcement of the sale of Bombardier’s Morocco and Belfast facilities to Spirit Aerosystems, the pathway to the future is now clearer for the Casablanca unit, widely recognized as a modern, sophisticated facility working in tandem with the Belfast network. The sale is due to close in the first half of 2020.

The Casablanca facility has been so successful that a 150,000-sq-ft extension was announced earlier this year, to more than double the existing 100,000-sq-ft facility. Morocco activity involves work on Bombardier aircraft, but the ambition is to act as a Tier 1 Supplier for a number of aircraft manufacturers.

Bombardier Morocco manufactures flaps, ailerons, winglets, slats, nacelles, emergency doors, and floors for the CRJ 700, 900, and 1000; floors for the Global 5000 and 6000; emergency doors for the Challenger 350 and 650; and fuel cells, nose extensions, flight deck, and emergency doors for the Learjet.

“Using our Morocco base, we did a combined bid for the A320neo thrust reverser,” Stephen Orr, vice president and general manager of the Bombardier Morocco Manufacturing Center, told AIN. “We won that in a very competitive environment by doing the design, engineering, and manufacturing of complex parts in Belfast, and 100 percent of the assembly will be done here in this plant in Morocco. That’s one among other future work packages that we’re setting up to do, [and] quite a program to be on.”

The factory opened at Midparc, Casablanca, in 2014, and soon grew. Today, it has 350 employees and plans to increase that to more than 1,000. The new facility will open in the third quarter of 2020. Bombardier Morocco is a sister site to the Short Brothers PLC conglomerate in Belfast, part of Bombardier since 1989.

“Morocco offers a lot of advantages, cost-competitivity being one,” Orr said. “Exceptional government support would be another. We find the support of the government to be super-strong. However, my proposition would be that, certainly under the strategic direction of the King, the Minister of Industry, Moulay Hafid Elalamy has been the driving force [behind Morocco’s aerospace cluster]. He is the guy.

“The Minister of Industry has been behind all of the deals being signed, all the propositions. He has certainly supported Bombardier very strongly, and the whole industry. And he drives and drives and drives. Belfast brings, it is fair to say, all of the experience to play. Morocco brings, let’s say, a new vibe, a younger workforce, just a different dynamic. [A]bout 70 percent of the business is commercial, and 30 percent is business jets.”

Orr said Morocco is also studying how it could generate domestic private investment in the aerospace industry. Some 140 aerospace companies have set up in the kingdom, mostly in Casablanca, but are all foreign-owned. “How can you drive private equity in Morocco to start sharing the risk, to try and also anchor down the long-term longevity of the aerospace business?” he asked.

“If you could couple [government support] with some local private equity, then you’re starting to develop something that’s really saying: ‘OK, we’re here for the long run.’ If there’s a lot of domestic private investments, that would anchor companies here.”

‘Stage 2’ Companies

To date, AIN understands only one aerospace company to set up in Morocco meets the criterion Orr refers to, known as a “Stage 2” company, and that is TDM Aerospace, an airplane parts manufacturer recently established with a mission  to manufacture pipes and tubes for the Boeing 787.

A major driver behind the advent of TDM was the signing in 2016 of an MOU with the Moroccan government to set up the so-called Boeing Ecosystem (BES).

“The idea was to have a second OEM sponsor [Airbus being the first] to catalyze a new wave of companies to create a true go-to destination for world-class Tier 1 capabilities—structures, systems, interiors, propulsion, and MRO—in Morocco,” said Louis Winoski, co-CEO.

“The MOU aspires to create $1 billion in annual aerospace exports, 8,700 jobs, and meaningful technology transfer. The thrust of Boeing and the Ministry, after the MOU signing, was to attract 120 Boeing suppliers to expand in Morocco with the promise of low labor costs, favorable economics, and demographics. The initial response from the supplier community was tepid.”

Winoski said the 130-odd companies that set up in Morocco in Stage 1 were outposts of foreign companies—job and export creators, but with ownership and profits staying outside Morocco. “When we arrived and created the opportunity for Moroccan private investment on top of the incentives available from Boeing and Morocco, it became a game-changer,” he said.

TDM is the product of H2E, an advisory firm established by Winoski and a partner in 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. “We specialize in creating compelling value by connecting OEM problems with unique supply chain solutions. TDM is such a solution. H2E advocates taking Stage 2 a step beyond the BES and [the] original vision, by creating a new supply chain in Morocco…characterized by Moroccan ownership.”

Morocco’s First
Aerospace Company

Morocco’s first aerospace cluster concern, MATIS Aerospace (Morocco Aero-Technical Interconnect Systems), which today counts women as 70 percent of the workforce, was founded in 2001 by Boeing, Safran Electrical & Power, and Royal Air Morocco (RAM).

“The idea was to launch the first aerospace company in Morocco, in partnership with Boeing,” Zahira Bouaouda, CEO, told AIN. “Both RAM and Boeing were looking for an industrial partner, and Safran was selected. The agreement was signed between the three parties in 2001, with a business plan designed to ensure that the company would win significant business in the future. The building was completed in 2002. We started building the first wire bundle for delivery to Boeing in September 2002.

“We build wire bundles for the Boeing 737, [now] completely replaced by the 737 Max. We also started to be involved in production for the 777X—we should receive additional production in the coming years—as well as the 787, and the A320 family. We still do production on CFM engines. For Dassault Aviation, we started with the 900 and 2000. Now, we mainly work on the Dassault [Falcon] 6X program.”

Bouaouda expects revenues this year to exceed $104 million and to be stable in coming years. “We are optimistic about 2020. We have visibility on customer demand for the next five years. In 2019, we received a number of confirmed orders. Last year we exceeded $83 million in revenues.”

She said the BES was important. “We are very involved with development of the Boeing Ecosystem. Having other suppliers based in Morocco will help develop the global supply chain, and increase what we call the ‘integration rate’ in the Moroccan aerospace industry, which means ‘Made in Morocco.’”

Generally regarded as the founder of MATIS, not to say Morocco’s aerospace cluster as a whole, former RAM official, Hamid Benbrahim El Andaloussi is bullish about the future. But, as he told AIN in Casablanca in September, moving up the value chain was key. “If we stay low-cost, we die,” he said. n