Saudi Arabia is rapidly developing its prowess in aircraft manufacture and assembly
In January this year, Alsalam Aerospace Industries (Alsalam) changed its name from Alsalam Aircraft Company to better reflect its sky-high aspirations as it widens its portfolio of specialist engineering services and core competencies.
Defined as an integrated and holistic programme, Alsalam is increasingly taking a leadership role in local manufacturing and aircraft assembly, a strategic programme which started in 2013, affirming the company’s top status and ambitions in the regional and international aerospace sector.
Alsalam was established in 1988 under the Saudi Arabia’s economic offset programme to strategically develop technology transfer into a self-sufficient aviation industry for the kingdom with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Saudi Air Force. Alsalam has a 55 per cent stake holding from Boeing Industrial Technology Group; 25 per cent from Saudia, and minority stakes from Saudi Advanced Industries and Al Bilad International Technology and Industry.
Fully aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, Alsalam is helping spearhead the development of aerospace industries in Saudi Arabia and the paradigm shift into local manufacturing and aircraft assembly.
This high ambition establishes a framework for change and growth, with Alsalam’s new corporate identity reflecting the company’s additional engineering capabilities and increasing localisation in terms of manufacturing.
HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defence, has stated the national importance of developing in-kingdom aerospace and defence industries and the opportunities for expanding international partnerships and economic growth.
Alsalam’s accelerating growth path is being further strengthened by the increasing scope of the company’s core competencies and the intensive development and investment in advanced technical and engineering expertise.
Utilising Saudi talent, Alsalam continues to enhance its strategic partnerships headed by Boeing, intensifying effective knowledge transfer and developing fully-fledged in-kingdom manufacturing capabilities.
Yahya Homoud Al-Ghoraibi, the president and chief executive officer of Alsalam, emphasises that the company was very much at the leading edge of profound changes transforming the defence and aerospace industries sector across the Middle East.
Leveraging its deep relations with the Saudi Armed Forces and other defence and security services as well as the commercial aviation sector established over three decades, Alsalam is increasing its national capabilities through localisation and strengthening its strategic partnerships to meet the demands of the future.
“Alsalam’s increasing manufacturing capabilities and aircraft assembly capabilities have led to the strategic change in the company’s corporate identity,” Al-Ghoraibi says. “Over the years, Alsalam has progressed and built upon its core capabilities of maintenance, repair, modification and the upgrading of aircraft such as the Typhoon, Tornado, F-15 and C-130.”
He continues: “More recently, Alsalam has embarked on the assembly of military aircraft and the local manufacture of major military components here in Saudi Arabia. In 2016, Alsalam started assembling wings and manufacturing the forward fuselages, pylons and adaptors to upgrade F-15 jet fighters for the Royal Saudi Air Force.
“Our stated ambition is that by 2030 Alsalam will be in a position to manufacture our own complete aircraft, drawing from our strategic manufacturing partners such as Boeing and other leading aerospace partners too. Our vision and ambition for Alsalam is to become the Boeing or Lockheed Martin of Saudi Arabia in the years ahead.”
Alsalam has been investing in its advanced capabilities which include the conversion of the fleet of the Royal Saudi Air Force F-15S to an F-15SA configuration using F-15SA wing assembles and fuselages manufactured by the company.
The F-15SA is the most advanced production F-15 ever built including full fly-by-wire flight control systems and a host of electronic features. Saudi Arabia has 84 new-build F-15SAs on order and close to 70 kits to upgrade its existing F-15S fleet to the SA configuration. Alsalam is one of only two companies in the world outside of the US with these specialist local capabilities.
Alsalam has built its reputation as a tier-one Saudi aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company as well for the fabrication and installation of luxury interiors for VIP aircraft. These competencies encompass commercial and military aircraft maintenance, repair, modification and upgrades.
The customer base for refurbishment and completions has broadened over the years with Alsalam serving the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as well as an increasing list of international customers with cost-effective solutions from narrow to wide-bodied aircraft.
Alsalam operates near King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, close to the private aviation terminal and within the heart of an increasing cluster of high-technology companies including the nearby Advanced Electronics Company (AEC).
The Alsalam facilities cover more than 56,000 sq m including three aircraft maintenance hangars that can accommodate wide-bodied jets with specialist docking and access systems, as well as technical and repair facilities. The VIP interiors are housed in purpose-built premises at the facility.
Saudia was Alsalam’s first customer in 1993 when a Boeing 737 entered for a D-check after Alsalam received accreditation and certification as a repair station. The impressive portfolio of accreditations continues to meet Alsalam’s ambitions. Since then, Alsalam has developed its technical and administrative capabilities to become a regional leader and Saudi Arabia’s leading provider of aerospace products and services for military and commercial aircraft.
CAREER IN AVIATION
An aircraft technician and engineer by training, Al-Ghoraibi rose through the ranks of Saudia over a quarter of a century before he joined Alsalam in 2006 as Vice President of Maintenance and was then selected in 2016 for the top position in Alsalam.
Al-Ghoraibi was born in Al-Hada near Taif in 1960 in the scenic mountains, which are acknowledged as one of the most beautiful and lush parts of Saudi Arabia, with numerous parks and gardens, and a rich agricultural landscape that includes honey, figs and roses.
“My father was involved in agriculture and he then established supermarkets in the Western region and as far away as Cairo. I have always been mechanically minded and my career path involved attendance at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and then later technical training as an aircraft technician in Oklahoma in the US, where I did well.
“I was selected and placed on the fast-track courses for intensive training which involved a great deal of hard work. This was a great opportunity to train hands-on and I am very proud of what I achieved in Saudia as I worked as an aircraft mechanic from the shop floor up to becoming a foreman and then later to becoming the director of maintenance,” he continues.
Al-Ghoraibi is now presiding over a paradigm shift in the development of Alsalam as it enters into a new phase of its development.
“It is not just a matter of changing our corporate identity but, importantly, we are looking to take advantage to deliver engineering and technical excellence to further enhance our manufacturing capabilities. This involves intensively developing our in-kingdom expertise, and strengthening and developing our strategic partnerships, as no organisation can work alone,” he adds.
According to Al-Ghoraibi, the Saudisation policy is going well with a rate of 65 per cent with increasing cadres of excellence as Alsalam draws in top graduates and engineers to expand its advanced capabilities for the next generation.
“We are developing our national talent base to attract young Saudis who have ambition and the relevant skill sets,” says Al-Ghoraibi, who has a family of five boys, two daughters and seven grandchildren with one of his sons a mechanic with Rolls-Royce.
“For successful candidates, we will train, develop and qualify them to contribute not only to Alsalam’s diverse activities but to ensure progress in the aerospace sector and the national economy,” he continues.
Boeing has pledged to further strengthen in-kingdom partnerships to build locally enhanced capabilities within the Vision 2030 framework and is proceeding apace with the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Center (SRSC). This centre is a joint venture between Boeing, Saudi Aerospace Engineering Industries (SAEI) and Alsalam, and will be inaugurated later this year.
The SRSC facilities in Riyadh and Jeddah will boost the kingdom’s capabilities in the commercial and military rotorcraft sectors and become a national strategic asset providing comprehensive maintenance and overhaul support for Saudi Arabia’s diverse rotorcraft fleets.
“As we partner and develop new aerospace initiatives such as the SRSC, Alsalam is also driving forwards in developing our national expertise and human capital and attracting talented young Saudis to our vision,” says Al-Ghoraibi. “Alsalam is very much an eye-opener to Saudi Arabia and the wider community in the kingdom in terms of showing what we can actually achieve in the aerospace sector. We are customer-focused underpinned by precision and engineering excellence but have a collaborative approach to create value.
“I can see aviation and aerospace industries continuing to expand across the region and Alsalam can provide many technical services to defence industries as well as the big commercial carriers. For example, Emirates and Etihad sometimes need to offload work or source spare parts, so there are commercial opportunities,” he continues.
Al-Ghoraibi is very much a man of detail and understands what is required for engineering excellence, at the day-to-day or second-by-second level. Drawing from his long aviation experience and culture of total safety and technical precision where expertise and exactitude are paramount for maintenance, spare parts, operational procedures, technical systems and underpinned by certification to world standards.
From the shop floor to aircraft take-off, Al-Ghoraibi has huge responsibilities and a big weight on his shoulders, but he knows what is necessary for his company and partner teams in terms of competencies and performance to deliver engineering excellence, benchmarked technical and airworthiness accreditation, aircraft assembly and manufacturing.
“Our growth rate is increasing and to meet anticipated demand we have recently concluded an agreement to bring a further 500 Saudi trainees into our workforce in the years ahead through our close affiliations with various universities and technical training colleges.
“I can see Alsalam becoming very big and we are half-way along the road and can see a great future for the company as we have everything on board for our accelerated growth,” Al-Ghoraibi concludes.