04 September 2015
RIYADH: Boeing, a $91 billion US aerospace giant, has taken initiatives to build local capabilities in aviation and defense sectors of the Kingdom.
It has teamed up with major government and private agencies including Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF), Saudia, King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) and Alsalam Aircraft Co. to build local infrastructures and impart training to Saudi nationals to man growing defense and commercial aviation operations. This was disclosed by Dennis A. Muilenburg, Boeing's president and chief executive officer, in an interview. Newly-appointed Boeing chief Dennis, who brings diverse skills as a brilliant engineer to tackle tricky design problems besides boasting a proven record for keeping costs down, spoke candidly with Arab News about Boeing's 70-year old partnership with Saudi Arabia on the occasion of the visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to the US. Speaking on the occasion of the ongoing visit of King Salman, the Boeing chief said that "his company enjoys a long and important relationship with the Kingdom." He said: 'Boeing has pledged to develop infrastructure and strengthen competencies in the aviation sector." Dennis oversees the huge operation of the Chicago-based aerospace company, which has more than 165,000 employees across the US and in more than 65 countries on its pay roll. As CEO, Dennis, who was appointed as CEO only a few weeks back, is friend of Saudi Arabia. He has brought with him a rich combination of management skills, customer focus, business and engineering acumen, a can-do spirit and the will to win. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q: How far back does Boeing's relationship with the Kingdom extend? And what role does the history of the country play in this relationship?
A: Boeing enjoys a long and important relationship with Saudi Arabia that dates back 70 years. The partnership began in 1945 when US President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a DC-3 Dakota airplane to late King Abdulaziz Al-Saud. Not only did this historic airplane delivery marked the beginning of the Boeing relationship with Saudi Arabia, but it represented the dawn of commercial air travel in the Kingdom. Since then, Boeing has developed and expanded its relationship with the Saudi civil and defense authorities as well as with the private sector. The history of the Kingdom plays an important role in Boeing's success and the growth of air travel. Most countries saw their modes of transportation progress from horses to railroads to cars and then finally to airplanes. However, Saudi Arabia had a compressed transportation history that quickly moved from animal-driven transportation to airplanes in one massive leap. After 70 years, the aviation market in Saudi Arabia is unique. It is a very large country without high-speed railways or water transportation. Through most of its history, people and goods crossed an extremely hostile environment by caravan, but now they are carried safely by airplane through a network of more than 25 airports around the country
Q: Boeing's venture into the Saudi market marked both the beginning of the strong relationship with the Kingdom as well as the birth of commercial air travel in Saudi Arabia. Can you provide more detail and discuss the recent collaboration agreement Boeing signed with Saudia?
A: Boeing has a long history with Saudia. After World War II, Saudi Arabia began using the Boeing DC-3 to carry passengers and cargo between Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran. The service proved so successful that King Abdulaziz ordered the purchase of two more DC3s, launching the Kingdom's aviation sector. The DC-3 airplane formed the foundation for the growth of Saudi Arabian Airlines. Saudi Arabian Airlines was the first company in the Middle East to fly jets, purchasing a fleet of 707s in 1961. Since then, Saudia has taken delivery of many Boeing airplanes all different sizes including 707s, 737s, 747s, 777s, MD-11 Freighters, DC-9s and MD-90s. Also, it is worth mentioning, that our 737 airplanes served in Saudia's fleet for many years providing outstanding levels of performance and reliability. Currently, Saudia operates many different types of Boeing airplanes, including 747s; 777s. In 2010-2011, Saudia has also ordered 20 777s and 8 787 Dreamliner airplanes. Last year, Boeing and Saudi Arabian Airlines Holding Co. signed a broad collaboration agreement to explore areas of cooperation in pilot and aircraft maintenance training, rotorcraft support, management and leadership training, and manufacturing focused on the expansion of local presence and aerospace skill development in the country.
Q: Saudi Arabia is also an important customer for Boeing defense products and services. Can you elaborate on this relationship?
A: The Kingdom is an important customer for Boeing's innovative defense products. Boeing's relationship with the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) began in 1978 with the purchase of the Kingdom's initial F-15C/D fighter jet fleet, which became the backbone for the air defense of the Kingdom. Later, the RSAF complemented its force with an additional purchase of F-15C/Ds after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, followed by F15S Strike Eagles enhancing their capabilities with one of the most advanced fighters in the world. In 1985, Boeing and Saudi Arabian Airlines began a formal program to meet offset obligations by proposing a number of industrial projects to benefit the Kingdom. For example, Alsalam Aircraft Company, Advanced Electronics Company, Aircraft Accessories & Components Company and International Systems Engineering Company were formed to meet offset requirements. Currently, Boeing holds the largest stake at Alsalam and the company continues to contribute to the expansion of the technical base of both civil and military applications. The conversion of F-15S models to the F-15SA will also be done by Alsalam. Other Boeing defense products in the Kingdom include E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, KE3A cargo/tankers, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, plus Harpoon missiles and launchers.
Q: What are the advantages of the Advanced F-15?
A:The Advanced F-15 offers overwhelming combat power and multirole functionality for international customers and a path for technological growth for our customers like Saudi Arabia. The Advanced F-15 offers deterrent capability and flexibility across the mission spectrum, in a robust aircraft. Boeing's F-15 provides innovation, capability, and affordability and is attracting interest across the region. We continue to have dialogue with customers on a variety of products in the tactical aircraft field, both in the Middle East and other parts of the world.
Q: You are working hard to support the local education and enhance performance in the research and development sector, what can you say about your partnership with local educations entities?
A: Boeing support to communities is provided by investing in mathematics, science and literacy programs to prepare students to meet future challenges and allow them to realize their dreams. In 2001, the King Faisal Foundation, together with a team of entrepreneurs, Saudi businesses and multinational corporations, launched an ambitious program to establish the first private university in the Kingdom. Alfaisal University now helps students acquire the necessary knowledge to lead in the creation, application and management of technology. Boeing joined this effort as a cofounding member of the university, which began teaching classes in 2008. The self-governing, internationally recognized institution teaches and conducts research in engineering, science, business and medicine. In 2009, Boeing became a member of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Industrial Collaboration Program, which aims to facilitate local and international industrial collaboration. As part of the program, Boeing partners with academics and students at the university on research and development initiatives. Five years later, Boeing Research and Technology opened an office at KAUST to enable Boeing's increased interaction with professors and resident companies interested in joint collaboration and research and development. In July 2012, the Saudi Emerging Leaders program was the first program of its kind to be held at the Boeing Leadership Center. Boeing sponsored 15 MBA students for a one-week leadership development program, providing them with insights on how to effectively operate in a shifting global economy. Also in November 2014, Boeing launched the KSA College Graduate Program, which creates opportunities for recent Saudi engineering graduates of US schools who are interested in acquiring meaningful, on-the-job experience before returning to the Kingdom. The program provides the graduates with an opportunity to acquire on-the-job training experience with Boeing Military Aircraft and Global Services and Support Systems, initially focused on engineering supporting the KSA F-15 program.
Q: Boeing also supports the Saudi industry sectors as the company's objectives are to support Saudi plans to develop technological capability, create jobs, and promote Saudization. How has Boeing been helpful to the Kingdom by meeting Saudization requirements?
A: We are fully aware of the importance of local partnerships and are committed to creating a Boeing presence in the Kingdom staffed by Saudi employees through partnerships. Boeing supports work to develop infrastructure and strengthen competencies in the aviation sector. We currently enjoy a Nitaqat platinum rating for our Saudization efforts. In September 2014, Boeing and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology launched the Decision Support Center. The center will serve as a key tool for collaboration and experimentation between customers and partners in the Kingdom, giving users the ability to make more informed modernization and interoperability decisions for aerospace and defense products. The facility uses local Saudi capabilities and is staffed primarily by Saudi nationals. Recently, Boeing signed a joint venture agreement with Saudia Aerospace Engineering Industries (SAEI) and Alsalam Aircraft Company to create the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Center in Saudi Arabia.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Center JV, which was announced only last week? How does this agreement strengthen Saudi Arabian industry?
A: The Saudi Rotorcraft Support Center will have locations in Riyadh and Jeddah, providing in-country facilities for comprehensive maintenance support and upgrades of Saudi Arabia's diverse fleet of rotorcraft platforms. In-country rotorcraft capabilities will help improve aircraft availability and reduce repair turnaround time. The joint venture will support the Kingdom's commercial and defense rotorcraft platforms, including the Boeing-built AH-64 Apache, H-47 Chinook and AH-6i.
Through in-country cooperation, the partners are working to expand the Saudi aerospace workforce and develop technical and aerospace skills within the local workforce. At the same time, the Saudi Rotorcraft Support Center will help develop local capabilities in the Saudi aerospace supply base. The work awarded to the JV will be performed in Saudi Arabia, which supports the Kingdom's efforts to diversify its economy, expand the technological expertise of its aerospace and commercial sectors, and create jobs.
Q: It's interesting to note that you started as a Boeing intern and now you are the CEO leading the operation of this $91 billion company. What is your advice for the Saudi youth aspiring for a bright future in the aviation sector?
A: Saudi Arabia enjoys some very promising talent, and my message to them is to make every possible effort to learn and take an active role in the development of the Kingdom. Boeing will support Saudi youth through the provision of progressive training programs and build local capabilities that allow them to enhance their academic, personal and professional skills, to become a skilled contributor, and have a positive global impact.
Q: Which are the major CSR/Social initiatives in which Boeing is involved in Saudi Arabia and GCC? Please give a brief account of the programs?
A: The communities where Boeing operates around the world are among its most important stakeholders and corporate citizenship is as integral to the company as is our expertise in flight and technology. Boeing's GCC program partners with organizations across the region including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. In Saudi Arabia, there are numerous beneficiaries including the Learning Disability Program at King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR), which conducts research to improve language proficiency among disabled Arabic speakers. Boeing also supports the Saudi Autistic Society's Early Intervention Program, which educates care-givers and the Hope Center for Exceptional Needs which aims to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream schools. Other beneficiaries include: King Abdulaziz Charitable Association, Al-Nahda Women's Philanthropic Society, Al-Ihsan Medical Society, SANAD Society for Children with Cancer, Prince Fahad bin Salman Charity Association for Renal Patients Care, Saudi INJAZ, and Zahrah Breast Cancer Association.
© Arab News 2015