UAE company lands Virgin contract


By Saifur Rahman

A UAE-based company has recently won a multi-million dollar contract with Virgin America to build a cabin service trainer, a top official said.

Virgin AmericaVirgin America contracted Spatial Composite Solutions, a UAE manufacturer of crew training devices for the civil aviation industry, to design, build and install an Airbus A320 Cabin Service Trainer at Virgin America’s headquarters in Burlingame, California.

The cabin service trainer is currently in an advanced stage of development at the company’s Ras Al Khaimah factory.

The Virgin America Cabin Service Trainer is a 1:1 scale replica of an actual Airbus A320 fuselage and features an enhanced cabin layout complete with galleys, seats, overhead stowage bins, operational PSU’s and an over wing exit.

Launched in August 2007, Virgin America’s current base of operations is San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) Terminal 2.

Joseph McKeever, CEO of Spatial Composite Solutions, said with this, his company’s total orderbook exceeded Dh11 million.

“We are a UAE home-grown business, now serving international airlines and bringing in valuable foreign currency to the UAE and generating employment in the local market,” he said.

Growing demand

“We are the first and only one manufacturing and supplying such highly technical products in the entire Middle East where air traffic demand is growing.”

McKeever, an Irish expatriate, started Spatial Composite with $2 million (Dh7.34 million) investments in 2007. Spatial Composite is a specialist provider of crew training solutions for the civil aviation and aerospace industries.

Frances Fiorillo, senior vice-president of People and In-Flight Services at Virgin America, said, “We are delighted to partner with Spatial Composite Solutions in developing our A320 Cabin Service Trainer which will provide our growing team with the best environment in which to hone their service skills.”

The company specialises in design, manufacture and installation of Cabin Service Trainers (CSTs), Cabin Emergency Evacuation Trainers (CEETs), Door Trainers and Fire Trainers.

Saj Ahmad, an aviation analyst with UK-based FBE Aerospace, said, “Virgin America’s contract with Spatial Composite Solutions points to an ever-increasing and widening business foray by UAE-based companies in the civil aerospace market. Their unique cabin product offerings for full-size training equipment shows the diversity and rapid growth in aerospace in the last 20 years — and with much of the world’s airline growth taking the lead from low cost airlines across the globe from such operators like Virgin America, the opportunity to expand and open up new markets will continue to be a cornerstone strategy for the likes of Spatial Composite Solutions.”

The company got its first major contract from Emirates — an $8.8 million contract to build 13 cabin service trainers, followed by Etihad.

“This contract by Virgin America is a recognition of our expertise and demonstrates the growing confidence of the global airlines in our production capabilities of our world class products, especially cabin service trainers, cabin emergency evacuation trainers, door trainers and fire trainers,” McKeever said.

He said this is also a living testimony to the growing industrial expertise demonstrated by UAE-based manufacturers. “The deal with Virgin America puts Spatial Composite Solutions on the global map — they can diversify their customer base and portfolio and also be safe in the knowledge that their advantage in being a specialist provider of cabin training equipment is a high-cost, high-yield business — it’s a platform that will expand their business for years to come as growth returns to the wider airline industry,” Ahmad said.

Emergency evacuation

Oman Air last year awarded a $2.6 million contract to Spatial for two new cabin crew safety trainers. Spatial is currently finishing the manufacturing these two emergency evacuation trainers developed for Airbus A330-300 and Boeing’s B737 NG as per the Oman Air contract.

These will be installed at Oman Air’s new Aviation Crew Training facility at Muscat International Airport. Delivery is scheduled for October this year. “We will deliver them soon, including one ahead of schedule,” McKeever says.

Spatial Composite has recently acquired and installed a 5 Axis CNC router that gives precision in measurement and accuracy in manufacturing, Spatial now offers a 3D Design and Prototyping service for designers, engineers, and manufacturers throughout the region.

“One-off prototypes, design mock-ups, master patterns and complex 3-D shapes can now be mach-ined to aerospace tolerances. This service opens new possibilities for intricate signage, street furniture, industrial parts and museum quality reproductions. In house design service is available if needed,” McKeever said.

Although the UAE does not have a large manufacturing base, especially in engineering and technology, the country is becoming hooked to aircraft component manufacturing business.

In 2006, the Dubai Government announced the launch of Dubai Aerospace Enterprises — a Dh55 billion investment vehicle for the aerospace industry to develop expertise and attract investment in Dubai World Central — a $33 billion aviation city currently under development that will host the world’s biggest greenfield airport development.

Manufacturing cluster

The Abu Dhabi government’s investment vehicle Mubadala Development Company is currently developing an aircraft manufacturing cluster in Al Ain. It will soon start manufacturing components for Boeing and Airbus. The company is expected to roll out its own jets by 2018.

Saj Ahmad says, “Given the unique and specialist capabilities honed by Spatial Composite, the rapid growth of air travel in the GCC alone will be a fundamental driver for future business — thanks largely in part to the growth by UAE based low cost airlines such as Air Arabia and flydubai.”

However, Spatial is still a relatively small operation and is the first such venture in the private sector. Despite its initial success, Spatial’s journey has been through challenges.

“Initially, the challenge was to convince the airline community of our capabilities. That is over,” McKeever said.

“However, now the challenge is to get credit from the bank due to tight liquidity. Banks are not lending enough and even if they do, they squeeze you. Despite our solid track record, we are having difficulty in securing loans.”

Despite the challenges, McKeever is determined to take the game further. He now plans to open an office in San Francisco to secure more business orders from the US carriers.