Sabah has a huge potential of becoming an aerospace hub for Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) and aerospace manufacturing activities. Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Darell Leiking said aerospace was a relatively new industry in Sabah compared to Peninsular Malaysia.
"Of the 230 aerospace companies registered in Malaysia, only about 10 are from Sabah, which is a small number compared to the opportunities available in this industry."
The 10 local aerospace companies are mainly focused on helicopter service, general aviation, training and other supporting services such as offline maintenance for commercial airlines. He said Malaysia had positioned itself as an important supplier to global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Airbus, Boeing and Rolls Royce.
"Products produced by the Malaysian ecosystem for global market include fan casing, fan cowl, leading edge panel, sharklet, nacelle beam, carbon brakes, automatic flight control and electronic flight display."
The Malaysian Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2030 has set a target for Malaysia to become the No. 1 aerospace nation in South East Asia by 2030.
Leiking said the Malaysian aerospace industry had recorded a total revenue of RM13.5 billion last year.
"This year, the increase of aerospace export was 54 per cent, which amounted to about RM8.51 billion, a huge jump from last year."
Malaysia's aerospace manufacturing sector has grown immensely contributing to 48 per cent, where else MRO contributed 46 per cent of the total revenue.
He said that in a press conference after officiating at the Malaysia Aerospace Industry Seminar themed 'Building the Future of Aerospace Ecosystem in Malaysia' organized by the National Aerospace Industry Coordinating Office (NAICO) under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) here yesterday.
The objective of the seminar is to promote initiatives that have been developed to further enhance the Malaysia aerospace ecosystem and to highlight opportunities in the industry to attract local players to venture into the aerospace business.
Leiking said NAICO had brought the seminar to Sabah to kick-start the opportunities for Sabahan players to participate in the industry. He said there were potentials in the aerospace industry in terms of manufacturing, services and repair that could be done in East Malaysia.
For instance, Leiking said he had visited the plant of the French company, Safran, in Negeri Sembilan where carbon brakes for aeroplanes were manufactured by extracting carbon from natural gas. Safran makes up 70 per cent of the global market share for aircraft brakes.
"Imagine Sabah with so much gas till we have to sell to Bintulu. We should tap into our own gas and commercially convert gas into something viable for the aerospace industry. If Safran can invest in Malaysia and tap into our natural gas to create brakes with high-tech methodology, Sabah has huge potential to do the same."
Additionally, he said General Electric (GE) had recently signed an agreement with a Malaysian company to service LEAP engines, making our country the hub to conduct MRO on the engines.
"With that, maybe the components of the aircraft can come from Sabah."
In three to four years, Leiking hoped that Sabah would have ventured into aerospace manufacturing besides MRO.
He added that Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) should also focus on aerospace besides the existing sales and trades.
On a related note, Leiking hoped that the government would consider decentralizing the airports and give Sandakan and Tawau Airports international status.
"One of the factors why we are in stagnation (in the aerospace industry) is because we have yet to give international status to Tawau and Sandakan Airports."
He believed that granting the international airport status to both places would allow airlines to utilize the MRO facilities and capability in Sabah.
Meanwhile, NAICO head Shamsul Kamar Abu Samah encouraged more local companies from Sabah and Sarawak to take the opportunity available in the aerospace industry.
He said NAICO was also looking into expanding MRO activities in Sabah.
"We have more and more airlines coming into the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA). We should take this opportunity to leverage on MRO."
Shamsul said his unit was also looking into creating partnerships between local companies and foreign firms and experts from Peninsular Malaysia to capture the available market.
"With the development of MRO activities in Sabah, we foresee it will spur the development of advanced human capital, help in high-tech developments and bring in more aerospace manufacturing activities to the State."
Adding on, Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park (KKIP) chief executive officer Melvin G.
Disimond said there were about 130 acres of space at the industrial park for MRO components manufacturing.
At present, he said five acres of the space had been allocated as the site for an aerospace technician training school.
"The plan is currently being approved. Our target is to start construction this year or early next year and commence operations in one year's time thereafter."