Tunisia is growing its own indigenous aircraft manufacturing business and is now looking for wider market reach, as Vincent Chappard discovers.
Developing light aircraft in Tunisia has been a challenge met by Sousse-based Avionav, despite being in a segment of the market where it is competing with well-established manufacturers.
However, the company has bigger ambitions, according to its founder, Ferid Kamel.
Avionav was set-up in 2007 by two Italian manufacturers in Mateur. It was later bought by a group of Tunisian engineers and shifted to Sousse.
“Since then, we have been doing our very best to give entire satisfaction to our clients through high quality and top-of-the-line products at very reasonable prices, 30% less than our competitors,” Kamel said.
More than 1,300 of its models are now flying and around 40 light aircraft (two-four seats) come off its production line each year.
The aircraft are involved in many different missions, from training and agricultural roles through to advertising banner towing and leisure flying.
The company has a diversified and broad market including the US; Europe (Belgium, France, Italy and Spain); Latin America (Brazil and Argentina); Asia/Middle-East (Pakistan, UAE and Iran); and Africa (Tunisia and Algeria). New markets are being tapped like Costa Rica, Czechoslovakia and Qatar, according to Kamel.
“Africa is a very promising market. We are currently discussing with Senegal and Mauritania,” he said.
This development shows the determination of Avionav and other flourishing North African companies to have a role in the aviation sector by emphasising their strengths of tradition and geographical location, at the crossroads between the Middle East and Mediterranean Europe.
Avionav has five models, of which four are on the production line. Its design and engineering team is presently polishing a fifth prototype, the Sea Xilon, a four-seater amphibian seaplane that has been specifically designed to land on lakes and the sea as well as on a hard runway. There will also be a two-seat version. “It’s a very ambitious project, which requires much resource. Hopefully, the first two prototypes will be ready in a year,” said Kamel.
The company can deliver any of its aircraft one month after being ordered. Which is “quite rare” in this sector, says Kamel proudly.
For its high-winged Rally aircraft, the company has chosen carbon fibre for its numerous advantages. It is ultralight aircraft manufacturers (ULM) and light sport aircraft (LSA) certified.
Century (low-wing) with the same certification, has proven to be robust since 1991 when it came on the market.
Certified experimental in the US, Fury is an extended variant of the Century. It can accommodate two more seats.
The RG is another variant derived from the Century. This two-seater, with a retractable gear, needs another certification.
Avionav also provides design and engineering services to its clients in many fields of expertise including: computational fluid dynamics (CFD), radar Doppler multifunction (RDM), structural analysis, electrical design and certification.
Evada Aircraft, affiliated to the Swiss company, MCI, also wants to take its share of this niche market with its “cost-effective” aircraft models, the Evada A2, powered by a 130hp Rotax 915 engine, and the Evada A4, equipped with a six-cylinder Lycoming 0-540 engine.
Both models will be equipped with a full avionics and a retractable gear, enabling them to land on water or a hard runway. Retractable skis will be offered as an option.
“Our goal will be to have both the A2 and A4 Evada aircraft prototypes completed and certified with more than 100 units sold before this time next year,” said company CEO, Joseph Bourne.
Avionav and Evada Aircraft have entered into discussions over contract manufacturing and services with the view to launching the prototype of the amphibian aircraft.