RMK12 should build on aerospace industry’s strong foundation
23 Sep 2021
Malaysia should continue to build upon its solid foundation in the aerospace industry under the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) as it can hasten the uptake of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology, boost high skilled employment as well as propel economic growth.
On top of the Malaysian Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2030 (MAIB2030), the 12MP can help drive the industry’s growth, which has generated employment for more than 25,000 skilled workers to date.
Besides being strategically located at the heart of the wider Asia-Pacific region and world’s largest air travel market, Malaysia also has several public universities with strong aerospace engineering capabilities, particularly in testing new aerodynamic designs as well as mechanical and electrical engineering.
These establishments are already producing some of the best high-skilled aerospace technicians.
However, there should also be some upgrade in terms of syllabus as technology is fast changing, said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Institute of Malaysian and International Studies director Prof Dr Sufian Jusoh.
“Some of the institutions are left behind in terms of their syllabus. It is not only about creating pilots but beyond that — in terms of creating technology and the ability in adapting it. So, the whole ecosystem needs to be supported and upgraded,” he told Bernama.
So that is something that the government can look into — creating a conducive ecosystem for the industry to prosper and contribute to the economy.
Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst at Endau Analytics, said the government needs to be more realistic and devise a completely new strategy for the aerospace sector.
He said although the government is leaning on aerospace as one of the key drivers of 12MP, it is unlikely to happen immediately as the industry has been wracked by the pandemic and would take a few years to fully recover.
“As such, the government will need to be more realistic and devise a completely new strategy for the sector,” he said.
Aerospace revenue dropped between 20 and 30 per cent in 2020 compared with RM16.22 billion in 2019. Commercial aviation was the most impacted sub-sector due to the closure of international borders and the limitations in domestic travel.
Both aerospace manufacturing and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) businesses have been experiencing deferment of orders and heavy maintenance services.
Shukor believes that a consolidation among the players in the sector is among the key factors, as the market would have shrunk post-COVID-19.
Currently, there are more than 240 aerospace-related companies operating in Malaysia comprising both local and global players.
Major global players have established their regional centres in Malaysia to serve the growing Asia-Pacific market. They include Airbus’s regional engineering support centre for all of Asia except China and GE Engine Services Malaysia (GEESM), which is GE Aviation’s only full overhaul centre in Asia-Pacific.
“(Malaysia should) take advantage of opportunities in cargo, invest in freighters. The government needs to play a bigger role in facilitating funds for airlines (public and private) as well as supply chain distributors,” he said.
Echoing Shukor’s view, an industry observer said it is crucial to have more coordinated strategies and actions among the industry stakeholders in ensuring the goals of the Malaysia Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2030 are achieved.
“The 12MP is perfectly fitted in terms of timing as Malaysia is on track to achieve herd immunity and industries including air travel are set to be reopened. With the right set of directions and actions, we will be well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities in store, especially in the sustainability area,” he said.
The aviation landscape is fast moving into the environmentally friendly area, forcing big players like Airbus and Boeing to develop more environmentally friendly aircraft and engines, including the development of Airbus zero-emission hybrid-hydrogen commercial aircraft known as ZEROe and Boeing eco Demonstrator 787 which harnesses the power of big data for real-time efficient flying.
“Hence, it is an area that can be tapped on,” said the observer.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects global travel to return to pre-pandemic levels between 2023 and 2024 with regional travel being a driver.
Following the increase in air travel, global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are expecting the commercial aircraft market to gradually recover between 2023 and 2025.
After this point, the OEMs are anticipating an increase in orders on top of the delivery of backlog orders. It is forecast that the demand for new commercial aircraft will be geared towards fuel-efficient planes and dominated by single-aisle jets, which are used for short-haul routes as well as for the air cargo, defence and space sectors.
It is to be noted that aerospace technology has driven many advancements in the electrical and electronics (E&E), semiconductor, machinery and equipment (M&E),
as well as software and military industries. Developed countries such as the United States, Europe, South Korea, China, Japan and Singapore all have strong aerospace industries at the core of their innovation economy.
South Korea, for example, is a significant producer of aerospace technology today, producing their own indigenous T-50 fighter jets.
The country is also globally dominant in the E&E and M&E sectors with conglomerates like Hyundai and LG both having aerospace divisions being among their technology development drivers.
In Malaysia, Aerodyne Sdn Bhd a home-grown company, is already the second largest drone technology company in the world, providing services to the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, agriculture and transportation industries in more than 20 countries globally.
Aerodyne is a fine example on how the aerospace industry is a catalyst to the creation of new technology economic opportunities.
Sufian said Malaysia still has a competitive edge in this area within ASEAN although there are giants like China and Japan in this segment.
“We have many players in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) area in terms of drones as well as logistics. This can be developed; we still have the competitive advantage in this,” he added.