Can U- Ta­pao Airport Be De­vel­oped Into an MRO Cam­pus?

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Contents - Naratip Pholthavee is an Avi­a­tion Con­sul­tant at To70 Avi­a­tion Con­sul­tants ( Thai­land) Co., Ltd. He can be con­tacted at naratip@ to70. co. th. Writ­ten by: Naratip Pholthavee

The re­cently signed Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing ( MOU) be­tween Air­bus and Thai Air­ways to eval­u­ate the de­vel­op­ment of U- Ta­pao In­ter­na­tional Airport into a ma­jor new maintenance, re­pair, and over­haul ( MRO) fa­cil­ity may have marked an im­por­tant step for Thai­land in de­vel­op­ing its foot­print in the aero­space sec­tor. The ad­van­ta­geous lo­ca­tion to­gether with a state- of- the- art MRO aero­space hub is bound to at­tract many po­ten­tial cus­tomers, es­pe­cially in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion where the air fleet is ex­pected to triple over the next 20 years. There is no need to com­pete at this stage, as de­mand for the ser­vices still trumps the sup­ply. There­fore, this de­vel­op­ment con­trib­utes greatly to Thai­land long- term strate­gic plan.

The re­sults of the eval­u­a­tion as spec­i­fied in the MOU could high­light many ben­e­fits in de­vel­op­ing a ma­jor MRO hub in Thai­land: from its ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, mar­ket trends in Asia, gov­ern­ment sup­port, etc. How­ever, risks are bound to be iden­ti­fied through the eval­u­a­tion as well, and risk mit­i­ga­tion will need to be planned and man­aged ac­cord­ingly to en­sure the suc­cess­ful re­al­iza­tion of the MRO hub plan. There­fore, the eval­u­a­tion tak­ing place through this MOU will need to be looked at from the per­spec­tive of “how to get to that stage ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively” – and this is no easy task.

There are many fac­tors par­tic­i­pants in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try should con­sider. Be­ing fi­nan­cially equipped and re­ceiv­ing sup­port from var­i­ous gov­ern­ment cam­paigns will ( def­i­nitely) help. How­ever, the most im­por­tant fac­tor in gain­ing suc­cess in projects such as this is more about build­ing a good rep­u­ta­tion as well as win­ning the con­fi­dence of cus­tomers. There­fore, cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and qual­i­fi­ca­tion are req­ui­site, es­pe­cially as they per­tain to man­power.

IN­VEST­MENT IN PEO­PLE IS CRU­CIAL

In ad­di­tion to the in­vest­ment in fa­cil­i­ties and equip­ment, in­vest­ing in peo­ple is, un­de­ni­ably, a cru­cial el­e­ment in en­sur­ing the suc­cess of this ven­ture. Man­power in all key ar­eas is crit­i­cal: cer­ti­fied per­son­nel to per­form the op­er­a­tion, trained maintenance per­son­nel to main­tain the new­est equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy, qual­i­fied state per­son­nel to reg­u­late and grant ap­provals to pro­ceed, cer­ti­fied qual­ity as­sur­ance and qual­ity con­trol per­son­nel, etc. This is not about train­ing peo­ple on the as- needed ba­sis, but about de­vel­op­ing the mind­set of the peo­ple who op­er­ate in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try, where they are aware that their work is crit­i­cal to the safety of thou­sands of peo­ple who board the plane. Be­ing a highly in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­try, es­pe­cially in au­to­mo­tive and elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing and re­pair­ing, Thai­land has an ad­van­tage in al­ready hav­ing a pool of skilled work­ers. How­ever, it is also crit­i­cal to man­age turnover, both or­ga­ni­za­tion­ally and na­tion­ally, as the train­ing pe­riod for avi­a­tion per­son­nel may take years longer than train­ing for the au­to­mo­tive or elec­tron­ics in­dus­tries, mainly due to the high safety stan­dards in­volved in avi­a­tion.

An­other key area of de­vel­op­ment needed to boost the avi­a­tion sec­tor is the law: the reg­u­la­tion frame­work for orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers ( OEM)/ MRO ac­tiv­i­ties in Thai­land may need to be as­sessed to en­sure that it is up to date, in line with re­quire­ments and fully sup­port­ing the in­dus­try and the strat­egy in place. For ex­am­ple:

• In­cor­po­ra­tion of part 145 ( Maintenance Or­ga­ni­za­tion Ap­proval) will need to be looked at from the per­spec­tive of ob­tain­ing De­sign and Man­u­fac­ture ap­proval ( i. e. Tech­ni­cal Stan­dard Or­ders Au­tho­riza­tion) in ad­di­tion to Re­pair Sta­tion cer­tifi­cate. The ap­provals can only be granted through an agree­ment with State of De­sign ( i. e. agree­ment with Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion ( FAA) to man­u­fac­ture Boe­ing prod­ucts, agree­ment with Eu- ro­pean Avi­a­tion Safety Agency ( EASA) to man­u­fac­ture Air­bus prod­ucts, etc.), Other­wise, all man­u­fac­tured prod­ucts will need to be ex­ported back to State of De­sign for qual­ity ac­cep­tance, thus caus­ing in­con­ve­nience as well as adding un­nec­es­sary cost. • U- Ta­pao airport with its ‘ one airport two mis­sions’ state­ment, play­ing both civil and mil­i­tary roles will need a clear seg­re­ga­tion be­tween the two mis­sions, in ad­di­tion to task­force sep­a­ra­tion, to en­sure that there is no over­lap and thus pre­vent po­ten­tial con­flict in the con­trol over civil and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties. This should al­low the gov­ern­ing body ( the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity of Thai­land – CAAT) to reg­u­late ALL civil ac­tiv­i­ties tak­ing place in U- Ta­pao airport, in line with de­fined reg­u­la­tory frame­work.

Set­ting up an MRO hub in Thai­land is not just about get­ting ac­knowl­edge­ment or boost­ing eco­nomic con­fi­dence lev­els, but also about set­ting up a new foun­da­tion in de­vel­op­ing the peo­ple, the in­fra­struc­ture, and plan­ning for a con­tin­u­ous growth and long- term suc­cess of the coun­try.

To­day Thai­land is host to a num­ber of na­tional au­to­mo­tive sup­pli­ers and ser­vice providers, which is a re­sult of the grad­ual buildup of skills and knowl­edge since hav­ing es­tab­lished the foun­da­tion of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try in Thai­land more than 50 years ago. The same can be true for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try, with its un­tapped po­ten­tial be­ing rec­og­nized glob­ally. This high po­ten­tial tod­dler will ma­ture into an im­por­tant player na­tion­ally, re­gion­ally and glob­ally. One day, Thai­land may see lo­cal sup­pli­ers and ser­vice providers na­tion­wide, and who knows – in the not so far fu­ture, we may be able to find an avionic re­pair shop just around the cor­ner.

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