A MALAYSIAN COMPANY is to manufacture the Optica OA7-300 light observation aircraft, under an agreement with FLS Aerospace and RCR of the UK.

Under a recently signed memorandum of agreement, brokered by British Aerospace Airbus, FLS is to transfer production of the Optica to RCR for 12 months, to meet order commitments from Europe. Manufacturing will then shift to Gegasi Industries, in Malaysia.

The Optica has been out of production for around two years, after FLS Aerospace decided to restructure its UK operations to concentrate on maintenance. The project has been for sale since then.

Gegasi is a privately owned real-estate company with no previous interest in aerospace. Its managing director Nizam Salleh is a former air force pilot, and has a keen interest in producing the Optica in Malaysia. RCR is best known as the parent company of Heliwork Services, a UK-based helicopter heavy-engineering and overhaul-support operation.

Technical staff will be seconded to RCR for training during the first year of production in the UK. RCR claims to have orders in hand for some 20 Opticas, including a further ten for Spain, where the aircraft is already in service with the forestry commission.

Production tooling will then be shipped to Ipoh, in Malaysia, where Gegasi plans to establish an assembly plant. A site has already been identified, and will be leased from the Government as a concession, says Salleh. He eventually hopes to build up to 50 aircraft a year.

RCR, as part of its joint venture with Gegasi, will continue marketing the aircraft in Europe. Responsibility for the aircraft's design and certification will stay with FLS.

The deal has been facilitated by BAe Airbus, and is "loosely linked" to the sale of Airbus A330s to the region. Subcontracting work, such as the Optica's wing subassembly, will be awarded to other regional countries to fulfil outstanding offset commitments.

The Optica is the latest in a series of small-aircraft programmes acquired by Malaysia in recent years. In a similar deal, brokered by BAe in 1993, the Swiss-designed Datwyler MD3-160 trainer is now being built locally by SME Aviation as the Aero Tiga.

Some programmes have run into certification difficulties, and have to reach fruition. These include the Australian-designed Eagle X-TS composite aircraft. Others, such as that for the Dornier Seastar CD-2 amphibian, have collapsed because of a lack of capital.

Source: Flight International