Singapore's aerospace sector is getting a boost, with a $40 million investment over the next three years expected to result in more efficient aircraft maintenance that brings about shorter transit times for passengers and better detection of potential plane faults.
The investment, announced by the SIA Engineering Company yesterday, is the second phase of a programme to make work easier and faster for its 4,600 workers, and is part of its plans to improve processes even under the empty skies caused by the pandemic.
It will centre on streamlining operations that maintenance staff are used to, including by uploading available data from different sources to a one-stop mobile app.
The $50 million first phase was more focused on hardware.
SIA Engineering Company's chief executive officer, Mr Ng Chin Hwee, said the programme will put the aerospace sector in good stead to take advantage of the new normal in the post-Covid-19 world.
He said: "The unprecedented effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have made it even more imperative that we press on with the next phase. We strive to be more productive and innovative... and to emerge from this crisis with enhanced competitiveness."
Through an app called SmartMX, workers will have the history of defects of a particular aircraft, the maintenance manuals for that plane model and the location of the tools needed for the work.
This should shorten the time workers spend on each aircraft, whether in repair, maintenance or in transit. The planes can then be put back to use faster, thus reducing passengers' waiting times.
Two new machines will be introduced: an engine lifter that can reduce manpower and time taken to change aircraft engines by as much as 50 per cent, and an electro-static spray for the disinfection of aircraft that will better spread disinfectant droplets.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was at the launch ceremony yesterday, said the programme was a "call to action to transform the aerospace sector for the future".
Noting that vaccines are being rolled out and policies such as an air travel bubble and reciprocal green lanes have been negotiated, he said the sector must keep pushing on even if it remains unknown how flights of the future will look like.
"Post-Covid-19, travel demand will likely be permanently altered. We are likely to enter a world more acutely aware of the imminent threat of climate change. The competitive landscape will be reset after the Covid-19 earthquake," he said.
"We are in the middle of a disaster, with some light at the end of the tunnel and with the knowledge that even if we recover, life would not be the same. The logical conclusion of leaders is to start transforming now."
The first phase of the programme, which began in 2017, saw the introduction of snake-like crawlers that can detect defects in confined spaces and cooling vests for ground staff working in hot and humid environments, among other ideas. More than 100 initiatives have been implemented in the three years since, SIA Engineering Company said, branding it as a success.
This second phase of the programme comes after the number of flights handled by maintenance staff plummeted 86 per cent from April to September last year as a result of the pandemic.
Travel volume continues to be only slightly more than 2 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, with those in the industry hoping that this year can see the start of a tentative recovery in air travel.