Morocco continues to expand its aviation industry


At the start of the century, Morocco launched an ambitious programme to become a major aerospace industry manufacturing hub.

Mostly spared by the troubles of the Arab Spring, the Kingdom reached agreements with some of the biggest players in the aerospace industry, including Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus, Daher, Safran, Thales, UTC Aerospace Systems, Latécoère, and others. At the end of 2016 it hosted over 110 companies, comprising over 11,500 employees and generating $1 billion in exports, with annual revenue growth at 17%. In May 2016, The Economist named Morocco “a rising star in the west” and cited its aerospace cluster as one reason for optimism, while the city of Casablanca ranked sixth in the top 10 aerospace cities in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Yet this is not sufficient for Rabat, whose plan for 2020 is to bring 23,000 new jobs to the aerospace sector and generate over $1.6 billion in new export revenue. And indeed, major foreign companies continue to invest. While Airbus’s latest Global Market Forecast 2017-2036 predicts a need for 35,000 new passenger and dedicated freighter aircraft, Kevin Michaels, from the consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory, wrote in Aviation Week & Space Technology that “with major civil OEMs laser-focused on cost reduction, the outlook for Morocco appears to be bright”. Labour-intensive activities will continue to flow to “best-cost” countries”. Vice-President of Bombardier Morocco, Stephen Orr concurs, adding that companies usually demand “ever decreasing costs, for ever-increasing quality”.

Moroccan Representatives were present at Japan’s Aeromart Nagoya Business Convention last month to promote their country, and if North Africa is still a grey area for Japanese investors, Yukito Ikeda, the outside production manager of Kawasaki, agrees on the fact that “emerging countries are becoming a very important area for us, in order to win the price competition, with low-cost production”.

Boeing signed a deal in September 2016 to build a new hub in the Tangier region and pledged to encourage suppliers to set up or expand there. Up to 120 Boeing suppliers from across the group’s global supply chain could be expected to move in. According to what the Industry Minister told AFP at the signing ceremony, such a move would represent 8,700 new jobs and an additional $1 billion a year in export revenue.

Airbus built €40 million worth of facilities creating up to 800 jobs through 2018 and Latécoère opened a 6,000 square metre €11 million factory in August 2016. Daher will inaugurate a third site in Morocco to produce composite parts and French aerostructure supplier Figeac Aero signed in July this year an agreement to invest €26 million. Also this year, French SMEs conglomerate WeAre Aerospace set up a subsidiary WeAre Aerospace Morocco (WAM) with a 2,500 square metre plant in Rabat and a 3,500 square metre plant in Tangiers.

But low-cost is not all that Morocco has to offer. The country aims to develop more technology intensive industries. Thales is seeking to make of Morocco its “African hub”, and expand both its civil and defence activities. The French firm plans to set up a cybersecurity centre of expertise and opened in September last year a 1,000 square metre 3D printing facility in Casablanca, which will be the only dedicated centre of expertise for the whole group. Scheduled to be fully operational by 2018, it will operate 10 high-tech selective laser melting printers and employ up to 20 engineers. Even though this may seem few, Thales did specify all of them would be Moroccans.

Aeronautics SMEs are still few and far between, but can draw from an educated population. Chosen with 14 others amongst 20,000 applicants in the Start-up Istanbul competition, Moroccan startup ATLAN Space has developed artificial intelligence programmes for drones used to spot illegal fishing vessels off West Africa’s coast, a technology that young local engineers were able to showcase during the November 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn.

Morocco also aims to “play a special strategic role in business aviation”, according to Minister of tourism Mohammed Sajid. Marrakech held the second Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) Morocco Show in September. With Africa expected to receive 200 business jets for $7 billion in the next decade, according to the Bombardier Business Aircraft Market Forecast, the Kingdom is expecting to form “a hub between the continents of Europe, the Middle East and Africa”.

The government has launched tenders for 10 FBO slots, five of which were awarded to Jetex Flight Support and four to Swissport Maroc SA, a unit of Swissport Executive Aviation. Jetex’s FBOs are expected to be complete by the end of next year and Swissport claims that the build-out of its FBOs will be complete by October 2018. If the volume of business jet activity is “relatively low ” for Office National Des Aéroports (ONDA) CEO Zouhair El Aoufir, a new business aviation airport will open in 2025, and talks are underway to lessen government restrictions on operating private aircraft.

Written by ADIT – The Bulletin and republished with permission.