Singapore's Changi airport may be the premier passenger hub for Southeast Asia, but the smaller Seletar airport is staking its claim as the region's hub for the aerospace industry.
The historic airport – first built for the Royal Air Force in 1928 – has grown from being in the shadow of Paya Lebar and Changi airports to be a major business aviation; maintenance, repair and overhaul; and aerospace manufacturing and service centre. It is also the key facility for the surrounding Seletar Aerospace Park (SAP), which houses most of those industries, and is the premier cluster for Singapore’s growing aerospace industry; SAP was a joint initiative led by Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB), and land developer JTC.
“The idea was to create an integrated and conducive environment for aerospace companies to operate and, more importantly, collaborate,” Tan Kong Hwee, director of transport engineering at the EDB tells Flightglobal. “As such, when companies invest in SAP, they are not just investing in land. They are plugging into an entire ecosystem and community.”
That ecosystem has a number of layers to it. The airport itself is largely used as a general and business aviation facility, and plays host to a range of business jets, as well as FBOs and maintenance facilities from Jet Aviation, ExecuJet, Hawker Pacific and local firm MAJ Aviation.
The park is also a major aircraft and engine MRO centre. Fokker Services Asia has a facility that supports Fokker and ATR aircraft from the wider Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, ST Aerospace has a major narrowbody MRO centre, which supports carriers around the region.
On the engines side, in May last year Vector Aerospace opened its first Asian MRO facility at Seletar, which is only one of three worldwide that is designated for the overhaul of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150A turboprop engines. Similarly, SAFRAN’s Turbomeca unit will open a new S$50 million ($34.8 million) facility dedicated to helicopter engine MRO later this year.
“This investment marks the first major investment by the French conglomerate at SAP and will add to the growing rotary-wing cluster that includes Airbus Helicopter and Bell Helicopter,” says Tan.
Supporting those operations are parts and support centres from the likes of Airbus’s Satair unit, Bombardier and Embraer.
Seletar Aerospace Park
Training is another key focus of the park. ST Aerospace operates a growing flight training centre at Seletar, while Airbus Asia Training Centre – a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Airbus – will also soon open a 9,250m<sup>2</sup> facility there. Once fully operational, that centre will house eight full flight simulators for the Airbus fleet. “This ensures Singapore is adequately prepared to cater to the increasing demand for training services,” says Tan.
However it is not just the big name global players that are calling Seletar home. Suppliers, such as UK company RLC Engineering Group, opened a building in 2014 at SAP to supply Rolls-Royce’s wide chord fan blade manufacturing facility. Tan also notes the park has benefited local companies, giving them a route into the global supply chain for major aerospace players. “Looking to capture these growth opportunities, local aerospace companies are looking to expand, and SAP presents an attractive location to do so,” he says.
As an example, he points to Wah Soon Engineering, a Singapore company that has specialised in high-quality, complex tooling for engines, nacelles and airframes. Similarly, JEP Precision designs, fabricates and manufactures parts for Messier Bugatti-Dowty and UTC Aerospace.
Whilst Seletar is home to many different aerospace businesses, the production facilities of engine makers Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney play the most significant role. R-R has had a long relationship in Singapore, underpinned by the 1995 order by Singapore Airlines for Trent 800-powered Boeing 777-200s, which at the time was its single biggest order. Attached to that was a deal to establish two engine overhaul joint ventures with SIA Engineering, under the Singapore Aircraft Engine Services (SAESL) brand.
“That started our thinking of what else we could look at in Singapore, and we engaged in a series of workshops with the government of Singapore in the early 2000s to map out what the art of the possible might be for us in Singapore,” says Jonathan Asherson, R-R’s regional director for ASEAN and the Pacific.
That process led to R-R becoming a key tenant at SAP, and in 2012 it officially opened its 65,000m<sup>2</sup> campus there. “We now have a 400-person hub there with different businesses, support functions, technology centre, training centre and the two large [assembly] facilities,” says Asherson.
Key to the facility, however, is the assembly and test centre for Trent 900 and 1000 engines, which power Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s, respectively. Full engine assembly is presently at 170 units per year, and will ramp up to 250 by the end of 2017.
Seletar will take a big step up soon, with Rolls-Royce to use the facility as the lead assembly shop for the Trent 7000, which will power the A330neo. “It’s because of the commonality of what we already do today, so it makes sense using the people we have trained for the Trent 1000 to be able to do the 7000,” says Bicky Bhangu, R-R’s director of Singapore.
However with capacity at Seletar limited to a maximum of 250 engines per year, some Trent 7000 production will also take place in Derby.
In addition, R-R operates a research and development centre at Seletar, which focuses on technologies for manufacturing wide-chord fan blades. Outside Seletar, R-R has strong partnerships with a number of local universities and research institutes. R-R has also made Seletar an important arm in its global research and development activities. The research centre there is now a global leader in computational engineering, and is also taking a leading role in electronic controls and power systems and precision manufacturing. Asherson adds the company has recently added key staff in Singapore with design authority, essentially allowing for any engineering issues encountered in Asia, and requiring regulatory approval, to be handled locally.
P&W has also had a long association with Singapore and, ahead of the Singapore Air Show, will officially open its new manufacturing facility at Seletar. That shop will be used as a production centre for fan blades and turbine disks for its geared turbofans, such as the PW1200G offered on the Airbus A320.
Kevin Kirkpatrick, managing director of P&W’s Singapore service centre, says “Singapore made sense” when the company was looking at opening a second fan blade facility, thanks to the strong legal and commercial infrastructure, while SAP also offered a chance to be part of a wider cluster.
“As one of the major players here on the island, we obviously want to be a part of where aerospace is growing, and that is at Seletar,” he says. “The EDB has specifically facilitated and encouraged Seletar, and we definitely wanted to be part of that.”
Like R-R, P&W also has a joint venture with SIA Engineering, Eagle Services Asia, which is the only overhaul shop globally for the PW4000 series. It also services General Electric GE90-115B engines used on 777-300ERs and is able to do some repairs and services on Engine Alliance GP7000 engines used on A380s.
Although most of the tenants are now in place at SAP, there are further developments ahead. JTC plans to soon open buildings for companies requiring small and medium spaces. That follows the completion of "JTC Aviation Two @ SAP" in November last year, which caters to component overhaul and tooling manufacturing tenants.
Also on the drawing board could be the return of regular passenger services to the airport, albeit nowhere near the scale of Changi. As the larger airport fills out, the Singapore government has flagged it intends to move turboprop operators across to Seletar. To facilitate that, a previous passenger terminal was demolished in 2014, and a new one is set to open in 2017.
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Source: Flight International