Aviation sector can soar beyond current lull
With current lull, companies should improve processes to prepare for upturn
It is a tough time for Singapore's aerospace sector.
From a high of $8.7 billion in 2012 and 2013, total output fell to $8.3 billion in 2014 and an estimated $8.1 billion last year.
One reason for the slowdown is that airlines are flying newer planes, such as the Airbus 350 and Boeing 787, which do not need many repairs in the first few years of operation.
The local aerospace sector, which is focused mainly on aircraft maintenance and repair, is key to the Republic's overall economy.
With over 100 aerospace companies based here, Singapore now accounts for about a quarter of the Asian aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul market.
Key players include homegrown firms like ST Aerospace and SIA Engineering, as well as global names like Pratt & Whitney and Rolls Royce.
Even as the current lull is hitting the industry, companies should take the opportunity to prepare for the upturn, which is expected in a couple of years.
Improving processes through innovation and technology, will be critical to achieving productivity and bottom-line gains.
This is especially so with manpower costs on the rise amid a labour crunch.
US engine maker Pratt & Whitney, for example, has replaced manual checks of components using a handheld probe with an automated system which has cut inspection time by 40 per cent and increased capacity by 300 per cent.
At Changi Airport, where ground handling firm Sats prepares airline food, robotic arms are now used to assemble meal trays - a task previously performed by humans.
While harnessing technology, it is also essential to ensure that the workers gain the capabilities needed to handle not just the new processes, but also more advanced materials used to build new planes and parts.
Despite current challenges facing not just aerospace firms but airlines as well, the demand for air travel in the Asia-Pacific is expected to grow strongly in the middle to long term.
This will create new opportunities for those prepared to invest and upgrade for the future.
This article appears in The Straits Times today