x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Cabin maker lands US contract

A Ras al Khaimah manufacturer has won a deal to produce airline cabin replicas for training purposes for a US airline.

A Ras al Khaimah company that builds aircraft mock-ups used to train airline staff has won its first US export contract with a deal from Virgin America.

The contract for Spatial Composite Solutions (SCS) to build a cabin service trainer for the budget airline, based in San Francisco, is SCS's first outside the Gulf region.

"We are obviously delighted to have an opportunity to supply Virgin America with the A320 installation at their new crew training academy in San Francisco," said Joseph McKeever, the company's chief executive, who founded SCS in 2007.

The aircraft replicas typically feature rows of business and economy seats, as well as all the original equipment found on aircraft to replicate the in-flight experience, such as power supply units, galleys, overhead stowage bins and wing exits. A cabin crew trainer can cost up to US$1 million (Dh3.67m), said Mr McKeever, while mock-ups made for evacuation training are often twice that price.

Using cabin service trainers is a cost-effective way for airlines to train new cabin crew. It is much cheaper than withdrawing expensive aircraft from revenue-generating flight operations to accommodate training. The company has built trainers for Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Oman Air. It developed a niche for itself by manufacturing training modules from composite materials, while many of SCS's competitors use aluminium. Composites are increasingly used for building next-generation aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

With manufacturing facilities in RAK and offices at the Jebel Ali Free Zone, SCS will look to expand facilities in the UAE as well as seeking new financing avenues to support its drive into new markets.

In the Middle East, ambitious long-haul carriers are expected to receive hundreds of new aircraft over the next decade, requiring them to devote significant resources to training staff. Etihad and Emirates are expected to create 60,000 positions between them during that time, and Emirates has a partnership with CAE, the flight simulator firm, to cater to growing regional demand for pilot training.

Naser Qushair, the general manager of the Academy of Technical Training in Dubai, which specialises in aviation curricula, said full-service airlines in the region are devoting significant resources to training. "Good customer service requires highly trained staff," he said.

With the Virgin America deal in hand, SCS will set up a San Francisco branch to investigate further opportunities, Mr McKeever said. The company will also begin marketing itself in Asia, where airlines are widely expected to grow at their fastest pace over the decade. "The Far East is a very interesting market where airlines are investing in new training facilities and developing at a quicker pace," he said.

While much of the growth will come from China, SCS will also host a delegation of Japanese airline officials next month to discuss building trainers for the Boeing 787.

These plans are likely to require SCS to raise new capital, either from private equity sources or financial institutions, Mr McKeever said. SCS based its current manufacturing facilities at RAK after a US firm abandoned plans to manufacture windmill blades in the northern emirate, vacating its newly built factory. Future expansions could take place in Abu Dhabi, which is building an aerospace cluster in Al Ain.

SCS's largest contract to date was an US$8.8m deal to build 13 cabin trainers for Emirates. It is the only trainer manufacturer based in the Middle East and one of a handful producing trainers in composite materials instead of aluminium, Mr McKeever said.