Known mainly as a maintenance, repair and overhaul player, ST Aerospace is making a concerted effort to diversify into other aircraft-related businesses, including cabin modification.
One of the executives leading the charge in cabin modification works is Yip Yuen Cheong, ST Aerospace’s executive vice-president for aerospace engineering and manufacturing.
In an interview with FlightGlobal, Yip explains that the company wanted to move into a business where it could develop its own intellectual property, allowing it to manufacture its own products. Any such business, however, must complement the existing MRO and aircraft modification operations.
For ST Aerospace, its cabin refurbishment business is global. Customers include carriers from Asia and North America, and it has the worldwide scale to conduct the necessary work.
Besides the main Singapore operation, overseas subsidiaries conducting refurbishment works include the Burlington, Washington-based VT Volant Aerospace and San Antonio, Texas-based VT San Antonio Aerospace.
Yip lists several advantages that he believes ST Aerospace offers over other MRO firms, some of whom are also flirting with the idea of entering the cabin refurbishment business.
“The key for us would be the [US] Federal Aviation Administration Organisation Designation Authorization, the European Aviation Safety Agency certification, and the Singapore Design Organisation Approval. Those are the key to me: the certification, as well as our track record,” says Yip.
While ST Aerospace has extensive experience in conducting aircraft modification work, one of the toughest challenges it faces comes from its own customers, who want refurbished aircraft back into revenue service in the shortest time possible.
“If they only want to re-pitch the seats, it can take less than a week,” says Yip. “But if you want to change or move a lavatory, it’s complex. If you keep your lavatory the same, and just change to new seats, [the time taken] would also be very different. [While] we have a work programme, we know customers want it in the shortest time possible.”
Yip goes on to say: “The challenge is: when you put in your bid, besides price, how fast can you do it, so that they can pull the airplane out from maintenance, and put [it] back into revenue service?”
Building on the diversification is ST Aerospace Aircraft Seats (STAAS), a 90:10 venture established in 2015 between ST Aerospace and Tenryu Holdings. STAAS focuses on the design and manufacture of aircraft seats. It has developed its own family of seats, ERGO, that can be used on short- or long-haul flights.
Based on a product brochure STAAS provided, the short-haul seat will have a pitch of 28-34in (71-86cm), while the long-haul model will have a pitch of 29-36in. Seat width, meanwhile, varies between 17.6in and 18.5in.
Yip says the seats have just completed certification tests, with the results submitted to the regulators. The company hopes to obtain certification from Singapore and the FAA this year, and from EASA in 2017.
TALKING TO CUSTOMERS
While the seats have yet to secure any orders, talks with low-cost carriers and ST Aerospace’s existing clients are under way.
Being an independent player, however, comes with pros and cons.
Yip says the cons include having no track record, or the support of a parent airline to launch new products. But this also means that it could afford to customise the seats for a particular customer.
Another company official adds that with its independent status, customers are more willing to be upfront in their requirements and to share their seat wish list.
As airlines compete to launch new and more innovative seat products, it is inevitable that the lifespan of existing seats gets shorter. But Yip thinks the product lifespan waxes and wanes, in line with the state of the global economy and an airline’s finances.
“Whether airlines take four years or seven years to change their seats, it depends on the cycle, and whether the airline is making money or not. If the airline is making money, you can see it being shorter. With tough times, such as oil going over $100, it will be longer.”
Source: Cirium Dashboard