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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, May 2013
WEB Exclusive story

Aerospace Executive Champions Regional Airport City Ambitions

Site tour showcases local aerospace expertise – and economic development alignment between the public and private sectors.

Ismail Dockrat, CEO, Denel Aerostructures
Ismail Dockrat, CEO, Denel Aerostructures

wo large motor coaches were required to transport Airport City Conference and Exhibition (ACE) delegates from the conference site in Ekurhuleni, South Africa, to the Denel Campus in Kempton Park on April 24th. The visit was part of an extended tour that also included the O. R. Tambo International Airport serving Johannesburg and environs. The campus is home to Denel Aerostructures, Denel Aviation, Turbomeca Africa and a growing number of aerospace-related companies.

The three-day conference, held this year in Africa for the first time, gave airport management, local economic developers and political figures the opportunity to draw attention to the prospects of developing Ekurhuleni into an Aerotropolis, or airport city, in the future.

Ismail Dockrat, the CEO of Denel Aerostructures, says the company strongly supports the growth of an Aerotropolis as envisaged by the City of Ekurhuleni and the Gauteng provincial government. "Denel is a key contributor to the economic life of the region, and we intend to be at the core of future initiatives that will shape the growth of industrial and manufacturing opportunities," he says.

Denel Aerostructures designs and produces complex Tier 1 and Tier 2 metallic and composite aerostructures for Original Equipment Manufacturers and other aerostructure suppliers globally. For Airbus, the company makes wing-to-fuselage fairings, top shells, ribs and spars for the A400M military transport aircraft. It also produces winglets for HondaJet and detailed parts for Boeing's family of commercial airliners, among other assignments.


"The idea behind an Aerotropolis is to utilize an airport as an engine for economic growth that drives the development of the commercial and industrial sectors," noted Dockrat. "The global trend towards locating manufacturing and commercial activities around airports fits in well with the South African government's own vision for the future growth of the aerospace sector."

South Africa's National Development Plan notes the importance of growth in the manufacturing sector through intensified support for research and product development and policies that will promote localization and industrial diversification. In addition, an Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) identifies aerospace as a primary sector with the potential for the long-term growth of advanced manufacturing capabilities.

Dockrat says the delegates to ACE represent cutting-edge thinking on the future growth of cities located close to international airports. "This is a great opportunity to showcase Denel's modern facilities and take delegates through our high-tech manufacturing processes," he noted prior to the conference and Aerotropolis tour.

Strategic Location Explained

Following are excerpted remarks Dockrat made at the outset of the tour of his facility, in which he makes a compelling case for South Africa and the Ekurhuleni vicinity as a location for aerospace-related capital investment:

"Denel Aerostructures is part of the Denel Group, which is a state-owned company specializing in defense and security-related technology, services and products. Denel was primarily established to be a strategic partner for the South African National Defense Force, but we are increasingly finding export avenues for our world-class products and services.

"We are located here at the Kempton Park campus of Denel, together with two other companies in the Group, Denel Aviation, which specializes in maintenance, repair and overhaul work on a wide range of rotary and fixed wing aircraft, and Turbomeca Africa, an associate company and a well-respected name in the design and manufacturing of gas turbines for helicopters.

"Other companies in the Denel Group in the Tshwane area manufacture landward defense systems, turrets for combat vehicles, artillery systems, tactical missiles, precision-guided weapons, unmanned aerial vehicles and small and medium caliber ammunition. Another company is a global leader in the removal of landmines and explosive remnants of war while, at the southernmost tip of Africa, the Denel Overberg Test Range performs flight tests for missiles and aircraft and provide telemetry support to international space programs.

"As you will, no doubt, observe Denel is rapidly developing into much more than a mere defense company. It is increasingly becoming an industrial group that specializes in advanced manufacturing and cutting edge technology. At the same time we are exceptionally proud of the contribution we are making to meet South Africa's most pressing developmental [goals] in areas ranging from job creation to improving the quality of maths and science teaching to providing the technology to combat the scourge of rhino poaching.

"Denel Aerostructures is a prime example of a company that was initially established to meet targeted defense needs but has, in recent years, grown into a full-fledged advanced manufacturing house. Among our past achievements are the design and development of the Rooivalk combat support helicopter and the widely used Oryx medium-sized utility helicopter.

"On your tour through our facilities you will see the extent of our participation in the manufacturing of the A400M – the world's most advanced military airlifter produced by Airbus Military. We are one of the select few companies outside of Europe to be a risk-sharing partner on this ambitious multinational project.

"Denel Aerostructures is a company with very deep roots within the City of Ekurhuleni, and we regard our location next to the O. R. Tambo International Airport as a major strategic vantage point from which we can grow and expand our business.

"We have strong vested interests in any future development plans brought into the public domain by the City and the Gauteng provincial government. The concept of an Aerotropolis or ‘airport city' is truly an idea which is gaining acceptance among scenario planners and spatial designers across the globe, and we are truly excited about the prospects it holds for the future growth of this specific region.

"As a company Denel Aerostructures has indicated that we want to make a positive contribution to both the planning and execution of an Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis, and I want to use this opportunity to, once again, express our support for this process.

"One of the exciting features of an Aerotropolis for our company is the emphasis placed on the development of aerospace and aviation-related industries located adjacent to the core airport. This is most notable at airport city developments around Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland, at the Piedmont Triad Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina, and at the new Northwest Airport in the Florida Panhandle.


"This campus already serves as a hub for aerospace- and aviation-related industries," Dockrat continued. "In addition to the companies in the Denel group, there has been a rapid growth of small and medium enterprises, niche engineering companies and contributors to the aviation supply chain who already have, or are considering moving their businesses to this location.

"There are strong prospects for growth in the local aerospace industry, underpinned by a sound framework of government policies, such as the National Development Plan, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the recently published Aerospace Sector Development Plan. These policies recognize the potential for future growth in the aerospace sector as well as the contribution it can make towards broader objectives for industrialization, skills development, the emergence of an advanced manufacturing sector and job creation.

"I believe that the plans by Ekurhuleni and the Gauteng Government for an Aerotropolis are welcome contributions to the country's broader developmental objectives and that your discussions the two days of the conference will, no doubt, add further value. Thank you for your presence during this visit and for the opportunity to give you a brief tour of our facilities and to engage with you on the contribution Denel Aerostructures can make towards the emergence of an Ekurhuleni Aerotropolis."

A fleet of Airbus A400M military transport aircraft, key components of which are made by Denel Aerostructures in Ekurhuleni, South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Denel Aerostructures

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