Over the past decade, Tunisia has continued to build a solid, recognised and sustainable aeronautical industry. The leaders of the Tunisian Aeronautics and Space Industries Group – GITAS – have been explaining to Vincent Chappard some of what’s behind the success story.
The Tunisian Aeronautics and Space Industries Group – GITAS – has two main missions as it aims to promote the development of the Tunisian aeronautical supply chain and attract new investors.
Its development plan aims to boost growth in the sector by first creating inter-industrial synergies – today, Tunisia is able to carry out research and development (R&D), design, manufacture and assembly – and then being a driving force to promote Tunisian sites internationally.
President, Thierry Haure-Mirande, and general secretary, Wassim Srarfi, said the sector is now a vital part of the country’s economy. It includes more than 80 companies (90% of which are offshore); exported goods around €480 million ($525m) in 2018; and is currently responsible for more than 17,000 direct jobs. Large international companies and groups have a presence including Altran, Hutchinson, Latécoère, Paradigm, Precision, Sabena Technics and Stelia Aerospace, along with several companies in the Safran Group.
These companies cover many aerospace areas including aeronautical composites; aircraft storage and dismantling; interior design; technical textiles; parts; and infrastructure manufacturing – along with general and specialist maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO).
The aerospace industry in Tunisia is relatively young, with the arrival of the first companies in 1998. However, it is now in a ‘full growth phase’, exemplified by companies like Zodiac Aerospace (Safran Seats, Safran Cabin and Safran Aerosystems) that began operations in Tunisia in 2004 with around 40 employees. Today, more than 3,500 people work in the manufacture of aircraft galleys, seats, baggage containers, electronic cards, 3D wiring and electrical cabinets.
According to a recent report in London’s Financial Times, Tunis is the most attractive site in world aerospace in terms of operating costs compared to six other competing sites: Bangalore (India); Beijing (China); Brasov (Romania); Casablanca (Morocco); Chihuahua (Mexico); and Plovdiv (Bulgaria).
GITAS is also working to promote the country’s aerospace credentials throughout the global industry by encouraging new companies – and investors – to exploit the country’s growing pool of expertise.
Tunisia ensures that it adheres to all global compliance standards for its engineering and design, including electrical assembly, sheet metal working, wiring, assembly of aerostructures, surface treatments, embedded software for computers and plastics.
GITAS believes its main strength is its aerospace sector’s ability to manage products in their entirety, from conception to delivery, guaranteeing both build quality and performance.
“Tunisia is one of the most effective value-chains in the aerospace world since we can produce a product from A to Z,” said Haure-Mirande. Tunisia is conducting a series of educational programmes aimed at ensuring technological development and enhanced competitiveness as it competes with other locations and countries in Europe and Africa.
“We cannot rely solely on our competitive costs… we must be equally efficient and competitive,” said Srarfi. For example, he explained, the sector is getting into augmented reality, robotics, artificial intelligence, predictive maintenance and media digitisation, and all these areas will enhance industrial and productivity performance and also generate new partnerships that will increase skills for operators, technicians and engineers.
And, as the Tunisian working population is relatively young, it is easier to integrate new technologies in training.
For Srarfi, schools in Tunisia today offer quality training adapted to the needs of companies. This human resource has allowed companies to accelerate their projects and integrate products. Tunisia has the highest concentration of researchers among Arab and African countries.
Tunisia has four main aviation hubs located mainly around Greater Tunis, the Sahel, Soliman, and Zaghouan. Business demand is driving the rapid development of these areas.
There is a need for space to expand existing production units and allow for new entrants. Around 20 hectares are currently under development near Greater Tunis for aeronautical companies.
The GITAS objective is to double its number of aeronautical companies in the coming years.
With renewed political stability, all the indicators are looking good.