By Alexander Cornwell
AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) – Aerospace supplier Strata Manufacturing, a key player in efforts by oil producer Abu Dhabi to diversify into high-tech manufacturing, is chasing new income at a time of uncertainty about demand for plane parts.
Strata was set up a decade ago by Abu Dhabi’s sovereign investment fund Mubadala in the oasis city of Al Ain with ambitions to become a top-three player in advanced composite materials.
It won contracts from Airbus <AIR.PA> and Boeing <BA.N> to supply parts for wide-body jets, such as those ordered in large numbers by Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, in what many in the industry saw as a quid pro quo.
But with aviation in crisis over the pandemic, Strata is pursuing non-aerospace manufacturing – starting with personal protective equipment (PPE) that is in high demand due to the coronavirus itself.
It has begun manufacturing N95 masks in partnership with Honeywell <HON.N>, initially for entities in Abu Dhabi, part of the United Arab Emirates.
“We are an agile company. We want to ensure we keep a close eye on the future,” Chief Executive Ismail Ali Abdulla told Reuters. “We want to ensure there are opportunities … in adjacent markets.”
Strata sprang out of the desert in 2009 as part of efforts to broaden the economy and support local employment in a country mostly populated by foreigners. Its workforce is 60% Emirati, mostly women. (https://reut.rs/3j7LSme)
Abdulla declined to discuss financial performance but said Strata was staying within a budget agreed with Mubadala.
Strata builds parts for Airbus A330, A350 and Boeing 787 jets and the future Boeing 777X. A further line for A380 parts is to be removed after Airbus axed the superjumbo.
Plunging forecasts for long-haul travel are reflected on the shop floor, where around a dozen female workers were assembling N95 masks during a visit by Reuters.
Few other workers were present, which the company ascribed to shift patterns as part of pandemic health measures.
Strata aims to renew its Airbus and Boeing contracts and is in talks with Swiss planemaker Pilatus. Abdulla warned that planemakers could cut back on business with suppliers as their own output slows due to the pandemic – while insisting there would ultimately be a future in aerospace for Strata.
“Our industry is not short-term or medium-term,” he said. “The fundamentals of the industry are very strong on the long-term.”
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Al Ain; Editing by Tim Hepher and Pravin Char)