Strata eyes Boeing 737 Max and Airbus A320 Neo plane parts production

Exclusive: Widebody plane parts-maker also mulls outsourcing some production lines to India

Strata Expands Facility for Boeing 787 Dreamliner Assembly. Courtesy Strata Manufacturing
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Strata, Mubadala Investment Company’s aerospace manufacturing unit, is eyeing opportunities to produce Boeing and Airbus narrowbody plane parts for the first time as it seeks to diversify its portfolio.

The Abu Dhabi-based company is keen on producing parts on the Airbus A320 Neo, Boeing 737 Max and its predecessor 737 NG model to capitalise on their extensive order backlogs, Ismail Abdulla, chief executive of Strata told The National. 

"We want to be on these two programmes because they are the highest [production] rate in the market and the most successful and their backlog is just amazing," Mr Abdulla said in an interview in Dubai.

Strata currently manufactures parts on widebodies, business jets and turboprops. It counts among its customers international aerospace giants Boeing, Airbus, Italy's Leonardo and Switzerland's Pilatus Aircraft for billions of dollars worth of contracts. It is the Gulf’s biggest producer of aircraft parts and a key anchor of the UAE's economic diversification efforts. The company, which began operations in 2010, makes composite parts for wings and tail fins on jets including Airbus A380s and A330s, as well as Boeing 777, 777X and 787 Dreamliners.

Strata's interest in Boeing's 737 Max, grounded globally after two fatal crashes, is a vote of confidence in the embattled jet as the plane maker seeks regulatory approval for software changes before the Max can return to service.

"These issues will be resolved — Boeing I'm sure will be able to get through the challenges they’re facing on the Max," he said. "I strongly believe this aircraft will be back."

Strata's shifting focus to single-aisle jets comes amid expectations of slowing twin-aisle jet sales as the aviation industry faces overcapacity, fierce competition and a slowing global economy that has dented air freight volumes and slowed passenger traffic growth.

"The challenge is the next 18 months: there's softening demand, especially on wide-body aircraft, but this is because of the cyclicality of our industry," he said, noting the long-term forecast for jet deliveries remains strong.

Strata is currently in talks with Boeing to produce additional parts on the new 777X wide-body wing and tail, on top of an existing contract to produce its empennage ribs, and hopes to reach an agreement next year.

It is also in "advanced talks" with Pilatus for more work packages and production lines on its twin-aisle PC-24 business jet, in addition to an existing contract to make belly fairings, with the aim of sealing the deal by year-end.

Strata's highest production rate currently involves 787 Dreamliners, for which it makes the ribs, and will start producing vertical fins in its extension facility, Strata Plus, next year.

"It’s the largest tech-transfer from any Boeing facility to any location in the world and it's coming to [the] UAE," he said. "We will be producing the first shipset by Q4 2020."

As part of plans to consolidate its supplier network and focus on new work packages, Strata is considering outsourcing some of its current production lines or supply chain activities to India, Mr Abdulla said.
Asked about potential new customers, the chief executive said China's aerospace plans are "exciting" but Strata is watching how the Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) C919 jet will progress. It is yet to be certified, but dozens of customers (mostly Chinese) have placed orders and commitments for more than 800 jets.

Marking its 10th year since establishment, Strata is planning ahead for the next decade.

"We want to position ourselves as a manufacturing company that's driven by technology and we won't only concentrate on aerostructures," he said.

Strata is planning to introduce more artificial intelligence and 3D printing solutions to its production lines to enhance competitiveness, said Mr Abdulla.

Diversifying in the global aerospace supply chain, Strata is eyeing engine components manufacturing. It is also working on advanced materials manufacturing through a joint venture with Belgium’s materials and chemicals company, Solvay.

That production facility is 50 per cent complete and by the second quarter of 2020 it will be ready to make materials for the 777X, he said.