Business

TAE jets Ipswich into future

Supervisor Nathan Howard and aircraft technician Chris Cahill measure turbine vane gaps.
Supervisor Nathan Howard and aircraft technician Chris Cahill measure turbine vane gaps. David Nielsen

IT TAKES two security passes, and a drive deep into the heart of RAAF Amberley, to find TAE, a hidden gem of Ipswich's hi-tech future.

Andrew Sanderson, Managing Director and CEO of TAE, said the company is the largest privately owned Australian aerospace company, looking to take on the global market.

"We are an Australian owned business, we are owned here in Ipswich," Mr Sanderson said.

"Our goal is to become a global aerospace company."

With a history stretching back to 2000, many of TAE's staff have worked on successive engineering programs for the RAAF, starting with support engineering for the iconic F-111 fighter bombers.

"Then in 2006, we took over the engine workshop for the F-111's Pratt and Whitney engines."

This was followed by the RAAF Hornet and Super Hornet engine work in 2008 and 2010, before the latest 'jewel in the crown'.

"In 2014 we were invited to work on the AGT1500 program for the Army."

BIG BANG THEORY: TAE 'refresh' AGT1500 turbine engines in the Australian Army's M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Aircraft technician Chris Smith (left) and supervisor Chris Christofis.
BIG BANG THEORY: TAE 'refresh' AGT1500 turbine engines in the Australian Army's M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Aircraft technician Chris Smith (left) and supervisor Chris Christofis. David Nielsen

Originally a 'triage' program, TAE received 35 gas turbine engines from the Army's Abrams tanks, with an invitation to 'do what we could', which translated into 25 serviceable engines returning to the Army.

While it might seem strange to send a tank engine to a jet engine specialist, Mr Sanderson says they are similar.

"The Abrams uses an automotive gas turbine, running on diesel rather than jet fuel. "

It is this 'interoperability' that is key to TAE's success, with the company looking for synergies between contracts.

"As a commercial enterprise, we need to win work from our competitors, we need to find ways to improve our productivity."

After receiving federal support to help set up TAE when Mr Sanderson and four others staged a management buyout of the operation, he said they feel an 'obligation' to return any savings back to the Commonwealth.

"The government also gets a royalty for the use of equipment on our overseas contracts, including work on Malaysian Air Force Hornet fighters.

"We produce engines that are the envy of the world in the F404 program, used in the Hornet, we are a world leader in reliability, we are very highly regarded."

Aircraft technician Chris Smith (standing) and team leader Ross Gibbon work on an Abrams turbine.
Aircraft technician Chris Smith (standing) and team leader Ross Gibbon work on an Abrams turbine. David Nielsen

The Malaysian work is 'hopefully' the start of more international contracts, with TAE looking at other Air Forces.

"We are not static, where we can bring other products in, we are doing that."

With big improvements in turbine design, Mr Sanderson said it has also improved reliability, which brings its own challenges, with less work per engine.

Fortunately, the engine contracts are lengthy, with the Abrams lasting five years, and the jet deals signed for 10 years.

"We are able to future plan our staff and equipment, the investment in an engine business doesn't take well to ad hoc operations."

TAE focuses on work best done in Australia, with Australia's strength in high quality labour.

"I would love to see more of this in Ipswich, we are going to replace, retrain or requalify our technical workforce, we have an ageing workforce on jets."

With four new apprentices starting soon, Mr Sanderson said he wants to build TAE's profile in Ipswich, to attract new apprentices and staff from the local area.

Topics:  amberley, engineering, raaf, tae



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