EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: Khalid Al Breiki, President – Mission Support, EDGE.
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How has the pandemic impacted technology adoption by the aerospace industry in the Middle East?
In general, the aviation market was affected by the pandemic as much as many other industries, especially the civil aviation MRO and precision engineering market, which was a direct result of global travel restrictions.
In parts of the aerospace industry, we saw limited impact as the military operators were following regular maintenance programmes as required for the aircraft, and operators’ flying hours were not impacted by pandemic travel restrictions. In the commercial sector, we saw a different impact as civilian flight was greatly impeded.
In terms of adapting technology, Mission Support has found key ways to harness the combined value of our aviation engineering, training and MRO services, especially following the impact of COVID-19. As many countries look inward and revaluate strategic needs, we have focused on the UAE’s industrial and technology capabilities. Mission Support will strive to embed advanced technologies and innovative practices that will support the UAE and other regional air forces to maintain operational readiness, airworthiness, and technical ownership of various aircraft and platforms.
Have industry players been quick to adapt technology to cater to the changing needs in the aerospace market?
Within the aviation industry, changing needs must be met swiftly and boldly.
In terms of our weaponisation, the current focus areas within AMMROC are C-130, Black Hawk, T700 Engines, upgrade work across both rotary and fixed wing, blades, paint and LRU repairs. GAL continues to utilise the MRO facilities and DEPOT level capabilities in Al Ain in order to better support customers, and established the first regional distribution hub for aircraft logistics with China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) in 2019, a bonded warehouse designed to improve the availability of spare parts platforms across the region. By having spares positioned in the Middle East, repair times on aircraft are reduced from months to days. EPI continues to bolster its machining, coating, design enhancement, and precision engineering abilities by offering unique capabilities to the commercial sector.
Finally, we have developed a clear career path within the advanced aviation sector for the next generation of talent to thrive, and to upskill current personnel, establishing the UAE as a leading global hub for future industries.
In which areas and geographies do you see the strongest potential for growth?
The Mission Support cluster is always looking for new partnerships to deliver our high quality aviation services and positively contribute to the defence and aerospace sectors. We are considering other opportunities in the region, including countries in Africa, and others, where we can add value. Every country wants to have the sovereign capability to maintain their own platforms. We say that we can come and build that capability in-country, and then move back and provide expertise remotely. Currently, our entities are positioned as the A/C Depot maintenance of choice for the UAE. Both GAL and AMMROC have a continued focus on South Asia, Middle East and Africa (SAMENA).
We seek to develop products and services that are of interest to the UAE’s sovereign capabilities, and anticipate their export potential accordingly. We are open to all opportunities within the region. Our objective is to continue comprehensive support to both the UAE and its strategic partners.
What technologies do you predict will impact the aerospace industry most in the next five years?
Mission Support and EDGE prioritise R&D investment, emerging technologies, and intellectual property (IP) localisation to encourage innovation. Our cluster aims to leverage global MRO brands, the OEMs legacy of excellence in process management, and technology advancements to build one-stop shops for both MRO, training and engineering support. AI [artificial intelligence] in this business is a must. You cannot rely on what has happened in the past to predict when the next component failure will be. We are very focused on building data and using AI and deep machine learning, where applicable, as part of our everyday routines.
We plan to commit ourselves to the usage of drone for inspections, as well as AR for training and maintenance. In line with advancing technologies, we also look toward dedicating ourselves to research and development regarding advanced materials and smart automation, more resilient and dynamic aerospace and defence supply chains, the Utilising Internet of Things (IoT) to anticipate maintenance issues, and autonomous flight systems.
What are your expectations from Dubai Airshow 2021 - which will be the first of its kind event since the coronavirus outbreak?
EDGE and the Mission Support Cluster entities are proud to be participating in this year’s Dubai Airshow. We look forward to showcasing our capabilities alongside EDGE group companies. We expect this year to provide many opportunities for us, as it has in years past.
While we continue to adjust to the new normal and move into a risk-management focused post-COVID era, we look forward to getting back to a celebration of the region’s aerospace industry within our country’s safety guidelines. Regardless of the changes we experience, the aerospace sector continues to be a place for innovation, cutting-edge products and sustainable development.
What are EDGE's plans in the region?
Five years from now, EDGE will be known as a company that converges commercial market innovations with military capabilities, to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies – delivering products and services at speed, with a growing global export footprint. The consolidation of all sovereign defence entities under EDGE Group has enabled us to collaborate between the subsidiary companies, focus on collaborative R&D efforts, upgrade our own capabilities more consistently, and progress together efficiently and at speed – to deliver for our key clients and markets.