Leiking: Sabah companies must tap into huge aerospace business

Darell Leiking (in white shirt) listening to a briefing during the Malaysia Aerospace Industry Seminar in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: International Trade and Industry Minister Darell Leiking wants more Sabah companies to get involved in the huge aerospace industry.

Leiking said out of the 230 registered companies in the country involved in this industry, only 10 came from Sabah.

“Aerospace is a new industry in Sabah. We need more Sabahans to venture into this industry.

“Sabah has a big opportunity to participate in this. There is the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei around the corner … the BIMP-EAGE (East Asian Growth Area) should focus on aerospace.

“That is something I would love to see the state government do,” he told reporters after speaking at the Malaysia Aerospace Industry Seminar, titled “Building the Future of the Aerospace Ecosystem in Malaysia” here today.

The forum was organised by the National Aerospace Industry Coordinating Office (Naico), which comes under Leiking’s ministry, with the collaboration of the Kota Kinabalu Industrial Park, to kickstart opportunities for industry players in Sabah.

Leiking said, for example, Sabah can tap into its vast natural gas resources by producing high-quality carbon brakes, pointing out that a French company had already ventured into the industry in Malaysia.

“Safran Engineering is fully French but 95% of its workers are Malaysians.

“They produce about 70% of the world’s brakes for aircraft. So you can imagine what Sabah can offer.

“We have so much gas that we send it to Bintulu. So we should tap into our own gas and make sure we can commercially convert that gas into something viable in the aerospace industry.

“Only thing we need to do is to ensure the infrastructure provided by Sabah is up to the standards required,” he said.

Naico head Shamsul Kamar Abu Samah said most of the activities in Sabah for now centred on helicopter services, general aviation and training.

“Although there are peninsula-based companies here, local people in Sabah are involved directly.

“We can further grow this industry.

“We are also looking into expanding MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) activities in Sabah particularly. More and more airlines are coming to Sabah so we should leverage on MOR,” he said.

He added this will spur advanced human capital development in the state.

Leiking said Naico, which comes under his ministry, despite operating on a tight annual budget of RM1.5 million, had managed to bring returns of RM13.5 billion last year alone.

“Naico was very underfunded by the government (previously) but now we will look into how we can help increase this exponentially by ensuring Naico has a bigger role next year,” he said.

He said he had appealed to the prime minister to look into turning Naico into a full-fledged agency so it could grow on its own.

Leiking said it was also poorly reported in the news when General Electric signed an agreement with companies in Malaysia previously to service the LEAP engine, which represented a leap ahead in terms of aviation technology and materials, to power aircraft.

“That means 40 airlines in our region that use the engine will have to come to Malaysia for MRO. That’s a huge industry because we become the hub for MRO.

“Maybe components can also come from Sabah,” he said.

Leiking said another constraint faced by local industry players was that the airports in Sabah’s east coast districts of Tawau and Sandakan were not considered international standards.

“The state should request the federal government to upgrade.”