Monday, August 24, 2009

Factory cluster, aviation centre to rise at Seletar

A CLUSTER of factories and a $14 million, seven-storey building will be erected at the Seletar Aerospace park to house companies now operating mainly out of old hangars.

The new facilities will be ready by 2011.

As part of the development of the area, JTC Corp is also planning to build what it calls a 'general aviation centre' for private jet operators and flying clubs at Seletar Camp.

Its director for the aerospace sector, Ms Tang Wai Yee, said during a media briefing on Friday that a 2.6ha site had been earmarked for the purpose.

The plan is for affected companies, such as Executive Jets Asia, Flying Doctors Asia and the Republic of Singapore Flying Club, to share hangar space and other facilities to help reduce costs.
Industry players, however, are not happy.

Mr Prithpal Singh, chief executive officer of Executive Jets Asia and Flying Doctors Asia, said that first of all, the plot of land does not permit all the companies direct access to the runway.

He asked: 'Why are companies which have no need for direct access to the runway or parking apron being allocated land fronting these areas?

'For example, Eurocopter would not need this, yet it has a runway access plot... The same for engine manufacturers like Rolls-Royce.'

British power systems and engines giant Rolls-Royce and helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter have both confirmed plans to build facilities at Seletar.

Rolls-Royce is pumping $700 million to build a plant to make engine fan blades for large aircraft and another to manufacture and test engines. It will also build a regional training centre.

Mr Lingam Paspathy, president of the Republic of Singapore Flying Club, said the authorities do not quite understand what aircraft operators need.

'We have given our feedback, and discussions are still ongoing,' he said.

Mr Singh stressed that if Singapore wants to be a hub for business aviation, especially when the integrated resorts take off, more needs to be done to allow companies like his to operate more efficiently.

At Malaysia's Subang Airport, for example, VIPs do not need to travel to the main airport terminal, as they do at Seletar, to clear Customs and immigration.

The checks are done at the jet operator's premise.

Mr Singh, who plans to expand his air ambulance business - Flying Doctors Asia - with three more aircraft joining the current fleet of two by year-end, hopes that the authorities will take industry feedback seriously.

On the proposed multi-storey complex to be built, Ms Tang said it will not be developed by the private sector, as initially intended.

Developers were not keen to take up the project, she said. 'Still, we feel that it is necessary to proceed, so we will go ahead and build it,' she added.

Companies have already committed to a quarter of the total space, she said.

But Ms Tang is confident that the private sector will participate in building the cluster of factories planned for companies that need space for heavier manufacturing and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul work.

A 3ha site has already been earmarked for the facilities.

JTC is spearheading the transformation of the area around Seletar Airport into a 300ha aerospace hub that should be completed by 2018.

As part of the development, airport upgrading works, including lengthening of the runway, are also being done.

While the economic downturn has led to some project delays, things are picking up.

Ms Tang said: 'The economic crisis has had some impact on the MRO (aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul) business, though perhaps not as severe when compared to the general airline industry, for example.

'Still, the last 12 months or so was not a good time for companies to make capital decisions. Companies expect that next year will be better and people are now starting to re-look the plans that had been shelved.'

Mr Aloysius Tay, chief executive of the Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore, said: 'The market is still a bit soft and there is still a lot of volatility, but this is the time for the industry and for companies to position themselves to be ready for better times ahead.'

He agreed that there are signs of a pick-up.

Last year, total industry output exceeded $7 billion, compared with $6.9 billion in 2007.

Source: Straits Times, 24 Aug 2009

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