Airbus-Aerosud deal

Airbus-Aerosud deal a milestone in African industrial partnerships

November 2013

It is unquestionably a big deal for South Africa, but I would go further and say it signals a step-change in the way the world’s most powerful global brands view Africa’s hi-tech manufacturing capability. It shows Africans are developing industrial skills that are at the pinnacle of the manufacturing world.

Simon Ward, the vice-president of international co-operation at Airbus, praised Aerosud, saying the company’s technological competitiveness had set it apart from its rivals.

But, more significantly, he said a decade ago he doubted whether South African companies could compete globally. Well, this is proof they can — and that Airbus believes that.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies made another important point: that South Africa is moving beyond the things it has produced before and becoming a significant supplier of global products.

This deal represents a R13.6m investment and will see 160-200 jobs being created. With the programme expected to run for at least 25 years, it will bring work, jobs and export revenue. It will have a tangible impact on the South African economy and go a long way to support the drive to form key partnerships on the continent.

Aerosud is one of the many untold success stories of South African industry. It already delivers 1.3-million commercial aircraft parts each year to the global aerospace supply chain. More than 3,000 aircraft from the Airbus A320 family are flying with the help of Aerosud parts.

Why is this deal so significant? The linings are advanced composite and metallic materials, tailored for their military purpose, while the wing tips are a complex aerodynamic section of the aircraft, which house crucial safety and self-protection systems.

They will be made by Aerosud’s homegrown continuous fibre reinforced thermoform plastic press at its facility in Centurion, which could be seen as an unlikely symbol of South Africa’s — and the continent’s — growing confidence in hi-tech manufacturing and exports.

Airbus hailed it as "one of the (global) aerospace industry’s most capable composites materials presses".

But beyond the technology success story, the deal shows how industrial partnerships will shape Africa’s future, with aerospace playing a key role. Such partnerships will match the best of the considerable human talent of the continent’s 54 nations with the experience of other countries.

Through the development of strong industry in Africa, the 60% of young Africans now without a job will be able to unlock their potential to become the next generation of great entrepreneurs.

But industrialisation remains slow: the industrial share of gross domestic product value added is 30% — almost unchanged from the early 1990s.

The responsibilities for growth do not lie outside Africa, and governments across the continent must be pushed to legislate for a more favourable environment for industry to flourish. Investment in the continent will help millions of people who live in poverty, without access to education or the ability to work.

The Airbus deal might yet come to be seen as a milestone in the industrial development of South Africa and Africa as a whole.

We need more deals of this nature to continue to change the world’s view of the continent, where opportunities will be unlocked only by the generation of business ideas through partnerships.

• Ichikowitz is the founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group, Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace firm.


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