Jordan set to become aviation powerhouse

Aeroplane manufacturing has begun in the Middle East, after Jordan Aerospace Industries (JAI) gained certification for the production of its first model, the Sama CH2000.

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By  David Ingham Published  January 1, 2004

Aeroplane manufacturing has begun in the Middle East, after Jordan Aerospace Industries (JAI) gained certification for the production of its first model, the Sama CH2000. The company now has ambitious plans to become a major exporter of light aircraft to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, as well as to the United States. JAI was established in 2001 through a partnership between an American firm, Aircraft Manufacturing & Development (AMD), Zenair of Canada and a local investor. It has signed licensing agreements with a number of companies from around the world to manufacture and assemble light aircraft at its facility in the Queen Alia International Airport Free Zone. Eventually, 150 people are expected to be employed at the factory. The first model to be certified by the Jordanian authorities was the Sama CH2000, a two-seater aircraft from Zenair aimed at flying schools, and the company is confident about finding customers. “Within the next year and a half to two years, we are looking at hundreds of [Sama] aeroplanes. We are not looking at 20-30 aeroplanes a year, we are talking about significantly more than that,” says Mathieu Heintz, president & owner of AMD. Key to the success of the Sama in the local market will be the growth of flying schools, which are currently few and far between. JAI will be targeting 100 countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and presently there are less than 50 flying school within this region. “This is absolutely ridiculous when you have three quarters of the world’s population living there,” says Heintz. “We feel that with this [facility] we will be able to start changing this ratio.” The presence of a factory in Jordan should boost the sale of light aircraft in the region, as planes produced there will be significantly cheaper than those imported from North America, although it is as yet unclear by how much. Furthermore, the facility will also increase the availability of spares, which are difficult and expensive to import. “Parts worldwide are almost impossible to get [for light aeroplanes], which is a big handicap for anyone using these aircraft outside America,” notes Heintz. When the Jordanian facility is fully online, it will manufacture parts from scratch and then assemble the finished aircraft. AMD also plans to use the factory to make planes for the North American market because of the cost savings it will achieve in Jordan. “The labour in Jordan is a fraction of the costs in America… [and] our factories in America are getting close to maximum capacity, so instead of investing more capital for growth in America we are looking at importing the basic airframe and then finishing off the ‘made in USA’ parts in the US,” explains Heintz. AMD opted to build this facility in Jordan as the Kingdom offered a number of advantages over other countries in the region. Key factors included access to a port, the ability to build a factory next to an airport runway, and the availability of an educated workforce easily able to get visas to the USA and Canada. “We were [also] looking for a country that was very [politically] neutral,” adds Heintz. “We need a country that the Americans had very good relations with… but we also need a country that is very friendly with the other Middle East countries and the Asian countries as well.” “Once you start putting [all] these things together, Jordan was by far our best choice,” he concludes. The Jordanian authorities were also willing to work with JAI to establish the regulations for a production certificate. “The big problem we had was that there was never an aeroplane manufactured in Jordan before, so their air worthiness inspectors did not really know the processes involved with [inspecting] manufacturing and quality control systems,” explains Heintz. “That was a big deal because we can build all the aeroplanes we want, but without a production certificate we can’t deliver [any],” he adds. To set up the framework for this, the Jordanian authorities essentially copied the US production regulations and then ensured that JAI was compliant with them. “We went line by line proving that we complied with each section of the regulation… [and] I believe we received a production certificate in record time,” says Heintz. The company has got off to a good start, with its first two Samas already delivered to a flying school in Lebanon. It also expected to secure 25 orders from visitors to the Dubai air show alone. “We have a lot of flight schools all over the place watching this [first delivery] very closely to see how it is going to work… [However,] we have hundreds of airplanes in the US in the flying school market… so we have no doubt in our minds that there are not going to be any problems here,” says Heintz. “If anything, we think they [customers] are going to be pleasantly surprised.”

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