Another in the series of aviation stories from my archives originally published in print magazines around the world. Following on from the May 15th post about my whistle stop tour of South Korea this story is about Korean Air's Aerospace division This was originally from back in 2014 and as such facts and dates are relevant to that time. There have been some minor adjustments but to all intents it is the same.
What do you think when you hear of Korean Air? Naturally the flag carrier of South Korea with the very recognisable blue livery. But do you think of Aerostructure or satellite/launch vehicle design and manufacture, aircraft maintenance, military airframe reworking or indeed helicopter manufacturing? If not then you should and more.
Korean Air is much more than just a passenger and cargo airline, amongst such non aviation businesses as it’s hotel division, it has a multifaceted Aerospace Division (Korean ASD) headquartered in Seoul but with two further sites in differing parts of the country.
Research and development is in Daejeon and the simply huge unassuming Techcentre which is situated at the joint civil/military Airport in Busan on the countries south coast where it performs these many operations, employing 2,700 with revenues of over $700M
ASD was founded in 1976 with the licensed production of a Korean designed helicopter the 500MD. Only seven years later the first USAF aircraft arrived for maintenance. This aircraft was an F15 but since then many other types have passed through either on maintenance or for rework/life extension programmes and continue to do so providing the company with a valuable ongoing source of business from both the Korean and US armed forces. Particularly good synergy given the Gimhae Air Base is situated on the same site!
The list of types passing through is quite extensive as can be seen below with many visible during the authors visit in February 2014 including a real blast from the past, an F4 Phantom!
Military Aircraft Upgrade and Depot Maintenance
Upgrade/Service Life Extension
In the late eighties the first entry into the Unmanned vehicle sector was undertaken and this also continues today with the company putting a considerable amount of development in this area which includes the use of tilt rotor technology.
Moving into the early 90's and the company enters into space with the start of the first Korean Multi purpose satellite program followed a decade later when they were chosen as the final assembly company for the KSLV-1 Korean Space Launch Vehicle.
Commercial / Civilian operations
As an airline, Korean has been operating since 1962 and has used many aircraft not only from the major players Boeing, Douglas/McDonnell Douglas and Airbus but also Fokker and NAMC.
Previously operated types
• Airbus A300F/B4-2C/600R
• Boeing 707-300C/320C
• Boeing 720
• Boeing 727-200
• Boeing 747SP/200/200F/300/300F
• Douglas DC-3
• Douglas DC-4
• Douglas DC-8
• McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32
• McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30
• McDonnell Douglas MD-11/11F
• McDonnell Douglas MD-82
• McDonnell Douglas MD-83
• Lockheed L-749A
• Fokker F-27-200/500
• Fokker F-28-4000
• Fokker 100
• Gasuden KR-2
• Fairchild FH-227
Currently Korean has a large modern fleet of aircraft from both Boeing with B737, B747 and B777 and Airbus with A300, A330 and most recently A380. The airline has facilities for both line and base maintenance with the facility at Gimhae International, Busan being the main site. Korean is certified to work on Boeings 747-400, 747-8, the 777 series and the various versions of the 737NG. For Airbus it is the A300-600 and A330 series.
The majority of work comes from the parent airline but the company has worked with other airlines, the main being United with 141 aircraft. Others include World Airways, Southern Air and Uzbekistan Airways. Additionally the leasing companies GECAS and ILFC. The facility can handle up to 120 aircraft per year
Modification work is also undertaken from Cabin IFE upgrade, structure modifications e.g. 747 Section 41 to full aircraft Cargo conversions with the latter exclusively for the company airline.
Nearby there is also a paint shop which can accommodate a 747 with the capacity to take 36 aircraft per year. This again is mainly in house and Korean are keen to expand beyond the light blue of the parent in both maintenance and paintwork.
• 2 Wide Body Aircraft Hangar
• 1 Wide Body Aircraft Hangar
• Environment-friendly Paint Hangar
• Boeing 747 Aircraft Docking Bay
• Landing Gear Change Pitting Bay
• Washing Bay
• Cabin/Sheet-metal/Composite Full Support Work Shops
Avionics and component maintenance is performed on both commercial and military aircraft. Approximately 25,000 components are repaired annually, on items such as Navigation and communication systems in the avionics field and Fuel and Engine systems including APU in components for customers such as China Airways, Thai Airways, Pratt and Whitney, Boeing, Lufthansa Technik and the ROKAF.
• Boeing 737/777/747/787 Flap Support Fairing
• Boeing 777/747/787 Raked Wing Tip
• Boeing 767/787 Sec48 Aft Body
• Boeing 737/747 Radome
• Airbus A330/A340 Fuselage
• Airbus A320 Sharklet
• Airbus A350 Cargo Door
• Spirit Aerosystems
• Fuji Heavy Industries
• Kawasaki Heavy Industries
• 1993 - Spirit of Excellence Award (MDC)
• 2000 - Supplier of the Year (Boeing)
• 2006 - Supplier of the Year (Boeing)
• 2008 - EADS Supplier of the Year (Sorgerma)
• 2009 - EADS Supplier of the Year (Sorgerma)
2012 - Supplier of the Year (Boeing)
The nature of the world as a global market is never more evident than in the aviation industry. Not only does the end result travel the world but the many parts of the aircraft may already have travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles long before the finished product earns revenue for the first time. All the major manufacturers now have parts of their aircraft manufactured in different sites often in different countries and sometimes different continents before being transported to one or more final assembly sites. Sometimes these can be major structures such as fuselage sections or wings which are often from in house plants and transported by specially developed aircraft like the Dreamlifter from Boeing or the Beluga from Airbus.
Although an industry that has been in existence for some time, the market for smaller parts or Aerostructures manufactured by third parties all around the world is growing year on year.
What us an Aerostructure? Well it is a component of an aircraft's airframe. This may include all or part of the fuselage, wings, or flight control surfaces. Examples can be anything from a bulkhead to a radome, a winglet to a cargo hold door.
The first foray into the civilian aerostructure market for Korean ASD came in the mid eighties with the manufacture of 747 wing tip assemblies for Boeing.
This civilian aerostructure work is now a large and important part of the overall business. Moving on from from the initial work on the 747, Korean now works with Boeing on all their current models and with Embraer on the 170/190 fuselage.
Koreans involvement with Airbus has been quite innovative in that they have participated not only in manufacture but also the design and creation as well as testing and certification. The reason for the authors visit was about something both current and very noticeable and which followed this design to manufacture pathway. It is the single aisle wing device called a Sharklet. In February of 2014 there was a celebration to commemorate the delivery of the 1000th unit. The visit also included a guided tour of the whole facility viewing the many areas of work.
The number of Sharklets delivered is considerably higher than required for actual new aircraft production. This is because there is the need not only for aircraft under construction and in service. Some are required for spares departments and there is the retrofitting programme of which JetBlue is a major customer. Furthermore there is the lead time required in shipping these items that also needs taking into consideration.
A320 Sharklet 1000th Delivery
The Airbus Sharklet 1000th delivery celebrations was attended by dignitaries from both Korean and Airbus. From Korean Air there was Walter Cho, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer; Young Sik Kang, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer and Myung Rae Ham, Senior Vice President of the Aerospace Division. Travelling from Airbus were Tom Williams, Executive Vice President programmes and Jean-Francoise Laval, Executive Vice President of Sales Asia.
Korean ASD is the sole supplier of these devices to Airbus having won the international bidding process announced in November 2009 in which 20 companies from around the world competed for the prestigious contract.
Korean Air carried out the design, development, manufacturing, testing and certification of these fuel saving devices at their huge plant based at the international airport in Busan on the countries south coast. Built using lightweight composite materials, the 2.4 metre tall units help reduce wingtip vortices thereby reducing fuel burn. Additionally there is a reported improvement in payload range performance all of which corresponds to a reduction in CO2 emissions claimed to be in the region of 3,600 tonnes per aircraft.
Korean Air has established an 'Auto moving line' which was proudly shown to the dignitaries on a tour around the factory after the ceremony. This type of manufacturing process is rare in aerostructure factories, small production systems are more common for this type of manufacturing. This line was established in the 1280 m2 Tech Center Commercial Aircraft Manufacturing Plant in April 2013 and is equipped with a thermo hygrostat helping the construction process.
This line is capable of producing 70 ship sets (140 Sharklets) per month, however current rates are 45 ship sets (90 Sharklets) with an expected increase soon to 50 ship sets (100 Sharklets) per month. During the tour the first ship set for the A320neo was shown to the delegates.
The organisation has won many awards over the years with accolades such as Best Supplier to EADS Sogerma and Boeings Supplier of the year amongst others.
Korean ASD is truly a giant when it comes to aviation, not only the size of the operation in the innocuous looking buildings at the 706,000 m2 Tech Center at Busan but the sheer range of operations it performs and the long list of blue chip customers. In its 38 years it has expanded from humble beginnings through Civil and military aircraft modification and repair, UAV design, Satellite and launch vehicle development and current high tech Aerostructure manufacture.
There are even bigger plans for the future as a development deal between Bombardier Aerospace and a state-lead South Korean consortium was muted in October 2012, to develop a 90-seater turboprop regional airliner with a 2019 launch date targeted.
Time will tell, of course, wether this ever comes to fruition, not to mention the competition it is likely to face.
In the meantime when you next think of aircraft design and manufacture or are flying on a newer airliner remember Korean Air as there is likely to be a piece of the aircraft that has originated in a Korean ASD factory. To paraphrase an advert of the past, 'The future's bright the future's light blue'. Not the same ring to it but it does seem that Korean ASD has a bright future and will continue to be a leader in design, innovation and manufacture in the many arms of the aviation industry.
My thanks go to Choi Ki Beom of Korean Air and Robert Gage Media Manager for Airbus in the UK.