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Flying High

In Focus
NAME:Mahesh Kumar
COMPANY:Asia Digital Engineering
LOCATION:Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Asia Digital Engineering enjoyed a rapid takeoff during the COVID-19 pandemic, no small feat for an aviation company. And with aircraft services in such huge demand, the sky’s the limit for CEO Mahesh Kumar.

In the aviation services industry, nothing can be left to chance. Ensuring planes take off on schedule involves meticulous and state-of-the-art maintenance work. One tiny component can tip the scales between safety and catastrophe, while a grounded aircraft could lead to millions of dollars lost.

Asia Digital Engineering (ADE) is the force that drives the safety, efficiency and reliability of low-cost airline AirAsia and incredibly, it took off and soared amid the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ADE is a wholly owned subsidiary of Capital A (formerly known as AirAsia Group), which itself has enjoyed a remarkable growth from just two planes 20 years ago to more than 200 today, with flight routes now stretching across multiple continents.

Stormy Skies

In 2020, when airlines and aviation companies were fast losing altitude, Capital A saw an opportunity, explains Mahesh Kumar, who was with the company for 15 years before becoming CEO of newly founded ADE.

“During the worst phase of the aviation industry in 2020, we started to think about how we were going to diversify the business model. We’d been outsourcing the majority of our maintenance to China, Singapore and Malaysia, so we thought, why not do it ourselves? That would enable us to save our people and also reduce our costs.”

“We’d been outsourcing the majority of our maintenance, so we thought, why not do it ourselves?”

Starting small with line maintenance after securing land and hangar space at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport, ADE was quickly able to raise funds to expand into engineering support services and then component and warehouse services. It has also extended its footprint from Malaysia to other Asian countries, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand.

Thanks to the legacy of AirAsia, a low-cost airline renowned for delivering top-notch services at an efficient price, ADE had an airspeed advantage. This experience also provided the company with more than two decades of amassed maintenance data on 200 planes, which allows it to accurately predict what manpower and time frame is needed to complete tasks as well as evaluating progress.

“An airline needs three things when it comes to maintenance: low cost, fast turnaround time and safety and quality,” Kumar explains. “We were able to offer a lower cost than existing providers and faster service, so we started to get aircraft from other countries. The business quickly became very, very successful and ADE became a standalone company.”

The Right Expertise

Kumar’s deep knowledge of the industry also helped. Over his 15 years with Capital A he gained experience in everything from engineering to aircraft selection and even helped to set up AirAsia India and the company’s leasing entity, Asia Aviation Capital.

ADE aims to grow throughout Asia at the same rapid pace that it prides its aviation services on.

“The advantage of the MRO [maintenance, repair and overhaul] industry is that demand is way higher than supply, and it was that way even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kumar says. “You only have to look at the number of new airlines in the region and the speed at which existing ones are expanding their fleet. We have to keep up with that growth.”

Such expansive growth necessitates tight partnerships with manufacturers, suppliers, airlines and regional authorities.

“Liebherr will continue to explore joint approaches and support ADE in the future. Our OEM knowledge and experience in the aftermarket allows us to offer customized solutions, including digital state-of-the-art tools – for the benefit of ADE and the wider aviation industry.” – Alex Vlielander, Chief Customer Officer, Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation


Kumar says ADE’s success is thanks to around 20 crucial partners, including Airbus, GE, CFM, Safran, Honeywell and Liebherr Aerospace Singapore.

“We are very grateful to them; they’ve been very supportive and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. In the MRO industry, relationships are everything.”

Meanwhile, collaboration through online platform Aerotrade allows ADE and its counterparts to check each other’s inventories and secure parts faster.

“Supply chain issues continue to be a challenge in our industry,” Kumar acknowledges. “We have inventories for 200 airplanes so we can help the MRO industry very quickly. Similarly, we can quickly secure a part that is sitting on a shelf at another airline if they don’t need it. I believe making inventories public is a game-changer and will really reduce the supply chain headaches tremendously.”

“Our remarkably quick growth is down to our people, first and foremost.”

But Kumar says the propelling force behind ADE’s successful journey is the camaraderie and spirit of its workforce.

“Our remarkably quick growth is down to our people, first and foremost. Even though the company is new, our people bring so much experience in the industry,” he says.

Kumar says ADE’s inclusive attitude fuels its progress, which ensures that if an individual can deliver and perform, they have a clear runway to career growth.

“Performance and delivery are the heartbeat of our culture. It’s like the wind beneath our wings that helps us all to take flight.”

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