Airbus is Denel Aerostructures’ anchor


Building parts for the Airbus Military A400M airlifter will form the basis of Denel Aerostructures’ activity for at least the next ten to fifteen years, the company says, although it is also looking at expanding its activities in the civil sector and attracting more defence work.

Denel Aerostructures (DAe) is currently renegotiating its contract with Airbus Military on A400M component production and reviewing the pricing and schedule of work. In addition, DAe may be given more parts to manufacture. “We are making good progress with finalising the new contract with Airbus. We are very pleased with developments there,” said Ismail Dockrat, CEO of Denel Aerostructures.

He told defenceWeb that over the next ten to 15 years Airbus would be the anchor customer for the company as the A400M is the “anchor product”.

DAe is responsible for one of the largest composite-metallic hybrid structures on the A400M, namely the Wing-to-Fuselage Fairing (WFF). The WFF protects the equipment under the centre wing portion against lightning strikes, hail damage and bird strikes. Each fairing is 15 m long, 7 m wide, and nearly 3 m high.

DAe also manufactures the aircraft’s Top Shells – positioned in front of and behind the wings where it is joined to the fuselage. They are made up of more than 1 100 parts, consisting of a large machined skin, engineered out of an aluminium alloy. Its brackets support the electric and electronic wiring, hot air and heat exchange piping as well as the aircraft’s life-rafts.

Both parts were designed from scratch by DAe and are manufactured at the company’s production facilities located next to O R Tambo International Airport.

Colin Singarum, Executive Manager: Business Development at Denel Aerostructures, told defenceWeb that, “Very quickly they [Airbus] realised they need us not as an offset partner but a strategic partner. We are proud to say we are the design authority on the wing to fuselage fairing.” DAe designed, certified and produces parts for the A400M and helped Airbus trim some weight on the aircraft.

The A400M is scheduled to enter service with the French Air Force at the end of this year or the beginning of 2013. As production ramps up, DAe will deliver 24 shipsets per year, including four top shells every month.

In 2010 DAe delivered two shipsets to Airbus; in 2011 the company delivered five and this year will deliver eight. Airbus will receive 16 next year and 24 per annum in years after that. Dockrat said that once the aircraft enters service and proves itself, there is a “strong likelihood” that it will receive further orders. “If all goes well we would be involved in this programme for the next 15 to 20 years,” Dockrat said.
“Critically, the A400M programme has given us the ability to master technology,” such as high end five-axis machining and the construction of composite structures, Dockrat said. This is helping DAe to market itself and find new business. “We believe we can do more for Airbus and leverage Airbus support to win orders from other partners in the supply chain,” such as RUAG and GKN Aerospace.

As DAe is looking for new business, one of its strategies to boost activity is to focus on the four main OEMs (Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Bombardier) and look at their main suppliers and then ask them “how we can help”. Dockrat said DAe would be looking at suppliers with long production runs.

Dockrat was optimistic about the future, especially in the civil market, where major players like Airbus and Boeing have massive backlogs of thousands of aircraft. “Despite the economic downturn, [the] outlook looks robust,” he said. With the rising oil price airlines are renewing their fleets with more efficient aircraft. “We will find other customers, and will find other programmes,” he said.