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Aerospace's key role in Tunisian economy

Posted 24 November 2017 · Add Comment

The aeronautics sector in Tunisia is in full growth mode, with around 80 companies employing more than 13,000 people. African Aerospace's Vincent Chappard takes a look at the history, development and future plans for the aerospace industry in the North African country.

Historically, Tunisia has always been a land steeped in aviation, from the country’s first balloon flight in Tunis in 1784 to Louis Bleriot’s flying demonstration, also in the Tunisian capital, in 1910.
The aerospace industry is now experiencing double-digit annual growth and it’s also one of the few sectors to have created jobs in recent years. Indeed, it’s scheduled to provide more than 1,000 new positions annually over the next five years.
According to Tunisia’s Zied Ladhari, minister for industry and trade, the development strategy of the sector aims to secure the country in the privileged club of European and global aerospace manufacturing. To this end, Tunisia promotes public/private partnerships through assisting in the simplification of customs procedures and promoting the development of human resources and training. It has also created a fiscal incentive framework to encourage foreign investment.
“The adoption of this new law is a step forward for more freedom of investment for both Tunisians and foreigners,” said Fadhel Abdelkefi, the country’s minister for development, investment and international co-operation.
“Our ambition is to achieve growth at a more sustainable pace than we have seen in the last five years of our political transition – and also to make Tunisia a regional business hub for North Africa.”
Following its democratic transition, Tunisia has introduced reforms to move from a low-cost economy to a manufacturing hub with a diversified economic structure.
The aeronautics sector is a key part of this initiative and the government aims to enhance the governance of the sector through the creation of national aerospace clusters.
“Tunisia’s supply chain is characterised by the fact that it is complete and integrated,” explained Thierry Haure Mirande, president of the Tunisian Industries Group for Aeronautics and Space (GITAS). “It brings together the different aviation professions, particularly in engineering, mechanics, surface treatment, composites, plastic injection, aerostructures, control and testing, packaging, industry-specific tools and MRO.
GITAS was created in 2006 following an initiative by Zodiac Aerospace and Sabena Technics. It now has 47 members and its remit is specific – to promote and support the development of a Tunisian aeronautical supply chain, to represent the sector with the Tunisian authorities, to be the point of contact for investors and to encourage the emergence of national suppliers.
According to a major survey carried out for GITAS, there were a dozen aeronautical companies in 2004 and this has now grown to around 80. Several major groups have established themselves in Tunisia: Latecoere in 1998, Sabena Technics in 2002, Zodiac Aerospace in 2005 and Stelia Aerospace in 2011.
More than 85% of aerospace companies located in the country are foreign-owned with France remaining Tunisia’s largest partner, comprising around two-thirds of the total.
There are also other major international players in the sector, including those from the Middle East (especially Qatar), Asia and the United States.
Local companies are also emerging, such as the Avionav aircraft manufacturer and a new airline, Express Air Cargo, that has moved to a new level by setting up a maintenance centre.
Tunisia now offers a variety of aerospace engineering services, production facilities and manufacturing solutions, including the production of parts and subassemblies for Airbus’ A320 and A330 families of airliners.
These are produced at the El Mghira industrial centre in the southern suburbs of Tunis and extend over an area of more than 200 hectares, of which 20 are dedicated to the aeronautical park.
Stelia Aerospace was the first group to set up shop there and soon began to train its local partners and suppliers, such as Figeac Aéro, Mecahers Aerospace and Corsica Composites.
According to Ouassim Berraies, managing director of Stelia Aerospace Tunisia, several criteria led the group to settle in the industrial zone of El Mghira – qualification of the workforce and the relatively close proximity to sites in Europe in terms of deadlines logistics and costs.
Aerospace plays an ever more important role the Tunisian economy and this appears set to continue over the coming months and years.

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