x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Strata's UAE aerospace plant gives big lift to Airbus

Strata Manufacturing has delivered its first major component for a plane that will be flown by Etihad Airways - and the move is 'just a beginning', says its chief executive.

The Al Ain-based Strata is manufacturing ailerons, which are designed to control an aircraft's roll and facilitate turning, for Airbus. Courtesy Strata
The Al Ain-based Strata is manufacturing ailerons, which are designed to control an aircraft's roll and facilitate turning, for Airbus. Courtesy Strata

The first four fully assembled Airbus A330 ailerons to be put together by Strata Manufacturing in Al Ain has been delivered to Airbus's factory in Bremen, Germany.

For the first time, the UAE's leading aerospace manufacturer will have supplied a major component for an airliner to be flown by Etihad.

Ailerons are moveable control surfaces on the wing's trailing edge used to turn or adjust the aircraft's altitude. Each 85-kilogram aileron is made up of more than 400 parts and is five metres in length. An A330 is fitted with two - one inboard and one outboard - on each wing.

This delivery also marks a historic turning point in Strata's relationship with Airbus, elevating the company to a tier-one, or direct supplier, to Airbus for A330 assembled ailerons.

"This is just the beginning," said Badr Al Olama, the chief executive of Strata. "As we build on our relationship with Airbus, and with Boeing, one day it is our ambition to be the supplier of at least one major component in every jet airliner in the sky.

"Yes, this is a historic first in UAE history, that a part made by people in the UAE is going onto an airliner flown by a UAE airline. But our ambition does not stop there. One day, when a jet airliner flies over, any jet airliner, I want everyone in our workforce to be able to look up and say, 'I helped build that'."

Strata, wholly owned by Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi-based investment and development company, is already a single-source supplier of top and bottom panels for the Airbus A330 ailerons and for flap-track fairings on the A330 and A380. The company is talking to Airbus about working on the A350, Airbus's next-generation carbon-composite airliner programme and has engaged with Boeing to begin supplying ribs for the Boeing 777 and 787, and eventually the entire vertical fin on the 787.

In December, Strata delivered its first vertical fin section for the ATR turboprop commuter airliner to Alenia Aermacchi under a deal that had the Italian aerospace company pledging to expand its order book with the Al Ain factory.

Under the A330 aileron contract, Strata expects to have delivered 30 sets by the end of the year, and be capable of delivering 60 a year by the end of 2014 - equivalent to half of all the ailerons Airbus requires to fulfil a production rate of 10 A330s a month.

"Our commitment and our growing partnership with Airbus is an accomplishment for Strata and Abu Dhabi," added Mr Al Olama. "Strata's dedication to continuous improvement has been reaffirmed by our ability to manufacture complex and technologically advanced primary parts, and this further enhances our credibility in the industry, positioning us as a key contender on the next generation of aircraft.

"Although all the main contracts have already been awarded on the Airbus A350, we are in talks with Airbus on dual-sourcing some of the components. Airbus are looking to deliver 12 to 15 A350s a month, and as they start ramping up the production schedule, we can step in to take the strain off existing contractors.

"It will be a win-win-win situation; a win for Airbus because parts will be delivered on time; a win for the existing contractor because he will not have to up his investment to meet the increased demand, and a win for Strata as we win more work and gain more experience in this highly technical and competitive field."

James Hogan, the Etihad Airways president and chief executive, said he was "tremendously proud" that one of Etihad's airliners would now operate with major components manufactured within the UAE.

"We are delighted to see key parts for our aircraft now being manufactured in the UAE," he said.

"The UAE and the emirate of Abu Dhabi, in particular, are fast becoming an aviation manufacturing and maintenance centre of excellence, and as the national carrier, in the years ahead, we look forward to further demonstrating and promoting UAE technological and engineering achievements on our fleet and across our network.

"Aviation is a global business, and it brings together the very best each country has to offer," said Volker Thum, the head of the Airbus plant in Bremen.

"For the development and production of the world's leading aircraft, we require strong and capable partners, like Strata, who can deliver on this global scale. We anticipate that parts manufactured in the UAE will be set features on Airbus aircraft."

The total value of Strata's investment in the aerospace complex is about Dh900 million (US$245m) and the value of company's contracts to date is about Dh7 billion.

Last year, Strata sent two groups of technicians to the Airbus facility in Nantes, France for a five-month intensive training programme. One group recently returned to Al Ain to implement the skills they acquired. Strata has 533 employees of 30 nationalities, with more than 120 Emiratis working on the production floor.

Since launching in 2010 the company has raised its Emiratisation ratio from 1 per cent to 30 per cent at the end last year. Next year it intends to raise it to 40 per cent.

More than a quarter of Strata employees are women, with Emirati women making up about 80 per cent of UAE nationals on the workforce.

dblack@thenational.ae