Boost for SA aerospace industry

31 August 2007

The government this week endorsed three initiatives aimed at boosting South Africa’s aerospace industry: building a multi-million rand component supplier park outside Pretoria; expanding an existing support programme for suppliers; and tackling the shortage of skills in the industry.

According to Business Day, the supplier park, the Centurion Aerospace Village, will be built with R29-million provided by the European Union, which has also pledged a further R40-million for the project over the next two years.

The supplier park will cluster aerospace manufacturing companies that cater for international markets.

The second initiative involves expansion of the Aerospace Industry Support Initiative, which aims to develop an industry supplier base through a supply-chain improvement programme and a supplier development programme.

According to Business Day, the support initiative will involve the incubation of programmes worth R10-million per year.

Taking up the skills challenge
The third initiative involves work done by the National Aerospace Centre of Excellence (NACoE) to address the scarcity of skills and capacity in the local aerospace industry.

Engineering News reported this week that European commercial and military airline manufacturer Airbus had entered into a research and technology development partnership with the NACoE, Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Under the partnership, Airbus and the NACoE have committed to fund 30 South African postgraduate positions for work focussing on aerospace-related topics, with core themes such as the development and application of automation and smart structures techniques, technologies and processes.

According to Engineering News, Airbus is also working closely with the Department of Science and Technology and the NACoE to develop a scheme that will eventually encompass all areas of aerospace, aerostructures, systems engineering, manufacturing, aircraft operations and management.

“This symbiotic relationship will also benefit local small and medium-sized enterprises wanting to position themselves as suppliers to Airbus and other original equipment manufacturers,” Airbus international cooperation manager Remy Moreau told Engineering News.

“It will enable them to source local students who are familiar with Airbus, its processes and culture, but without any additional cost to themselves.”

Export growth potential
The government’s prioritising of SA’s aerospace industry is in line with its aim to increase the country’s exports. It also seeks to exploit the growth in commercial air traffic, and the consequent need for aircraft maintenance and modification, around the continent.

According to Business Day, government research shows that technology-intensive industries in developing countries grew by 20% over a 13-year period, as opposed to slower growth for lower-tech and resource-based industries.

Speaking to journalists at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria this week, Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa said the government, in deciding whether to back the aerospace sector, was “acutely aware that technology and knowledge are crucial factors of production in modern advanced economies, and those new technological developments can create platforms for further innovations.”

Mpahlwa added that as much as three-quarters the more than 200 local companies involved in aerospace-related work were smaller firms, pointing to a thriving medium-sized industry base.

In a further boost to South Africa’s aerospace ambitions, the Department of Science and Technology announced this week that the long-awaited South African Space Agency, which will be responsible for coordinating and implementing the country’s space and technology programmes, will be set up by March 2008.

SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews

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