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World Aviation Academy Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 17 -- Kuwaits Al-Aqeelah Group will be investing US$400-500 million over a period of time to set up an international aviation school, World Aviation Academy, in Malaysia in response to the growing demand for industry personnel.

Through its aviation arm, Aqeeq Aviation Holding, the group will initially put in US$100 million to jumpstart the academy which will train those involved in almost every aspect of the industry, from pilots to technicians and crew.

Aqeeq Aviation president and chief executive officer, Captain Abdullah Bastaki told Bernama that by 2020, the requirement for both civil and military pilots will exceed 300,000 personnels and that did not even include the technicians, cabin crew, or even air traffic controllers.

"The growth is hitting all sides. The academy is a necessity for the aviation industry today," he said in an interview here, recently.

More importantly, Abdullah said the academy would serve the needs of the middle eastern countries, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as this region.

"All these regions are thirsty for a proper and well established (aviation) education. It is different from than just taking a license. Now the aviation language is in English, which is standard and mandatory. Malaysians have a good command of the English language, which really brings it in line with the aviation industry requirement today," he said.

He added that they were also looking to produce more number of students, about 1,000 personnel yearly, with the help of state-of-the-art training technology such as the latest simulators and equipments. There will be less emphasis on using aircrafts which are subjected to unavoidable factors like weather, he added.

The group is in the midst of scouting for the perfect location to set up the academy and has identified several locations including Senai in Johor, Kuantan in Pahang and Batu Berendam, Melaka.

Abdullah said when the time is right, the aviation group intends to upgrade the academy into a university where they might outsource an existing aviation university to be the operator instead of starting from scratch.

"When we are ready, we will discuss with the Ministry of Higher Education to get the approval. But I don't see that (getting university status) as more than two-three years after we start. By then, we should be ready to give a university education in the academy and we are looking (to tie-up with) those from North America and Europe," he said.

Abdullah stressed that it will be also necessary for trainees to not only learn the technical side of the industry but also the management and financial aspects of it.

The courses offered at the university would see the students getting an aviation degree, and they would be also given special courses which will cover the areas of running an airline "It will be a mix of the financial, operational and technical parts," he said.

According to Abdullah, the academy will be the group's biggest project by far and expect it to contribute significantly over a period of time.

"Now the group owns four airlines, and we are also running an airport in Iraq. But by comparison, the academy supercedes all the others. It is the jewel in the crown. The academy can contribute more than 80 percent to the group in the next five years," he said.

In addition to the academy, Aqeeq Aviation would also be setting up a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Centre and a Completion Centre in the vicinity.

In likening the academy and these centres to a medical school and its affiliate hospital, Abdullah said the centre would serve as training ground for technicians besides being open for business.

"With the delay in aircraft orders, people tend to keep old airplanes. And once it passes five years, you need a lot of maintenance for it. So the MRO is a good business as it will attract aircrafts here, but at the same time, you will educate technicians," he said.

The MRO market today is estimated at US$58 billion, and is expected to grow US$60-70 billion in the next five to 10 years. Abdullah said the good thing about aviation was that the market was not dependent on the local business. If a plane from US makes a stop over in Malaysia, the aircraft can have its MRO done here, he pointed out.

"We are also adding a Completion Centre, something which we already started in Oman. We will bring used airplanes and convert them into an executive VIP aircraft.

"We found that in order to get a new aircraft these days, the waiting is six to seven years sometimes, and the minimum payment US$40-200 million. If you refurbish a used aircraft, within six months to a year you can get a complete executive airplane which can be used in a much shorter time," he said.

Abdullah said Aqeeq Aviation was also looking at partnering or acquiring local aviation academies and small MRO businesses in order to strengthen the academy's operation and make it uniquely Malaysian.

"Even for the simulator software firms, they can come in together with us and build up the academy so that it will be built by existing Malaysian industry personnel and services. We are looking at acquisitions or participation from them, and this can reduce the lead time required to start the academy to within just a year," he said.

"We are looking at partners who are not just purely investing, but can contribute to the business," he said.

He added that the group has identified its partners from Kuwait who can bring added value to the project. "We insist to have well-known international partners, like people who are in the equipment business, or in the training business, people who can do other part of aviation training like air traffic control."

At the same interview, Captain Lars Mydland, a partner and consultant in the academy said history showed that the current high-priced fuel issue clouding the aviation industry was temporary.

"If you look from 1972 until now, we have lots of crisis, such as oil crisis and September 11. But, if you look, it has been a continuous expansion (for the aviation industry) from 1972 until now. The industry is very quickly adapting and based on what has been put in order, the industry needs qualified personnel," he said.

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