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An interview with Simon Young, WEAF





“Europe must maintain the lead in the high-value technical and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) areas at any stage of the lifecycle”

The Chief Executive of the WEAF (West of England Aerospace Forum) of the United Kingdom reveals to us the keys for the European aerospace industry to maintain its leadership facing the emerging markets. Public-private cooperation, necessary for the future of the sector.


The forecasts upon the aerospace business in the world.- The forecast for civil aerospace is extremely buoyant.  Over the next 10 years, high growth markets like China, India, Southeast Asia and Brazil will drive incredible growth.  As their economies continue to grow, and families see incomes increasing, air travel will boom.  Even in Europe, air travel is expected to double in the next 15 years.  Putting all this together, there is an expectation that over the next 20 years or so, some 57,000 fixed-wing new passenger and business aircraft will be needed – this equals US$5.3 Trillion!!  So the opportunities in civil aerospace are frankly incredibly good.


Big challenges and trends that are going to mark this future.- The challenges though will be how European companies position to exploit these opportunities.  Much of the future growth will be fuelled by distant economies, countries hungry to create and expand their own aerospace industries.  So even if European industries already enjoy being part of the Airbus, Boeing or even Embraer supply chain, the challenge will be retaining that position in the face of increasing competition from emerging economies.  Having the technical ‘edge’ is no longer just enough in its own right – tight controls on cost, flawless quality, and an ability to always deliver on time are increasingly important for businesses at all levels of the supply chain.  Lastly, and certainly within the UK, there is a considerable challenge in ensuring the workforce is appropriately skilled to deliver the best-in-class technologies, services and products of the future.


SimonYoung-webInternationalisation of the European industry versus emerging markets of aerospace.- I think the European aerospace industry is doing OK at becoming internationalized.  Certainly the bigger players have made considerable efforts to set up offshore manufacturing capabilities, whether by partnering or by establishing their own ‘organic’ capability.

I think the future challenge will be driven by the governments of the emerging markets.  They will see huge amounts of their home consumer money fuelling air travel, and will want as much money as possible to stay in circulation within their home economy. One ‘tool’ available to governments to achieve this is to drive offsets into any major procurement of a European product or service.  So I think it could become increasingly important for the European supply chain to better understand how it can find emerging market partners with whom they can agree value-added offset arrangements – this is where Europe transfers technologies and capabilities very attractive to the emerging market, but still retains the key high-value differentiating technologies in Europe.  Definitely a win-win for everyone, but never easy to achieve in the real commercial world!


The European aerospace industry must maintain their competitive advantages over the industries of other continents.- The European aerospace industry has incredible capability across the whole lifecycle of aircraft and services, from game-changing future concepts, through state-of-the-art aircraft manufacture and systems integration, to maintenance, repair and overhaul capability in the tail-end of the lifecycle. I believe that where Europe must maintain the lead is in the high-value technical and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) areas at any stage of the lifecycle, and should include technologies, services and processes.  This is where the really skilled jobs lie, and will continue to give Europe competitive advantage.  We have to stay at the fore-front of disruptive technologies and processes such as Additive Layer Manufacturing.  It is not just mastering the physical technology of ALM that will sustain our competitive edge, it is also how the technology and processes are deployed at all levels of the supply chain that will make a key difference.  Getting this right means understanding how ALM reduces cost through reduction in waste and time, but is also robust and repeatable to achieve the stringent safety standards across the industry.


There is an unprecedented amount of European funding available for research and technology development funding.- I think the importance of R&D is very well understood across Europe, and both private and public sectors willing to invest heavily.  I would agree with many industry experts who comment that right now, there is an unprecedented amount of European funding available for research and technology development funding.  In fact, it could be argued that there are so many funding initiatives and opportunities that it can be quite confusing for many small and medium businesses to identify which is the right funding approach for them, and what opportunities and constraints might be attached to a particular funding route.  Here in the UK, it is something that WEAF is keen to help clarify for its members and other aerospace sector businesses – we try hard to make it easy for our members to identify the right funding opportunity, for the right technology, and with the right kind of ‘rules’ for that business.

A good example here is the UK National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme, NATEP.  This is a 4 year national programme, totalling £40M investment, split 50/50 between UK Government and private SME businesses who participate in the programme.  The national programme is being delivered regionally, so WEAF is responsible for ensuring successful engagement with SMEs in the South West of the UK, and for the delivery of successful project bids.  Not only does NATEP typify the kind of commitment being made by UK Government to create growth and jobs in aerospace, it is also proving extremely successful because of the NATEP ‘rules’ – projects must be industry led, must be collaborative (can include universities), and must involve a typical end-user as a means of validating the project idea.  On top of this, technology experts are deployed to pragmatically guide the SMEs through the bidding process and project execution, ensuring the SMEs can focus on the key objectives of technology development and creating jobs, rather than getting bogged down in bureaucracy!


The culture of partnership and business cooperation in Europe.- I personally think you can never have enough partnership and business collaboration – any business or even industry sector that chooses to exist in isolation is very likely to be missing out on so much opportunity, whether that be opportunity to gain new orders, or to innovate with new partners, or penetrate new markets.  But there are a number of significant barriers to partnering, collaborating and clustering. Mostly these barriers are due to culture and legacy thinking, but it is truly amazing how these can be overcome when organisations and leaders clear their minds and find ways of openly engaging with others – I’m not saying it is easy, but it is possible to achieve open dialogue and still protect your commercial interests.


Why is so important this cluster culture.- This is a very exciting area for WEAF and the South West aerospace sector in the UK.  For just over a year, the UK government and aerospace industry have been collaborating on the Lifting Off strategy under the Aerospace Growth Partnership, a joint funded strategy to the tune of £2Bn over 7 years total.  The Southwest aerospace businesses have been identified in an independent Mackinsey study as a high growth and globally significant UK industry cluster.  In the region we recognise that our future will be much better if we ‘design’ it for success as a whole, not just let it happen by luck in fragmented pieces!  So WEAF is acting as lead coordinator across the breadth and depth of the SW aerospace cluster for our future strategy, called innovation Aerospace, or iAero for short.

iAero is all about providing three strategic roadmaps in technology, supply chain development and skills that integrate to maximise the region’s ability to contribute to the national AGP strategy.  These roadmaps will include existing and planned interventions and investments by both private and public stakeholders across all three roadmaps – simply, if we can coherently align these interventions and investments, then we will multiply the future benefit far better than it would be if just carried on as we do today.


The future challenges for European engineering.- Europe must not become ‘introvert’ in dealing with the substantial Euro zone economic challenges that still lie ahead.  And what affects the Euro zone undoubtedly influences us in the UK heavily, so we are not immune.  European aerospace businesses must remain at the forefront of new thinking, differentiating technology, and developing a highly skilled and motivated workforce – it will be our people and their ‘intellectual capital’ that will likely make the difference.  We have to achieve all of this in the face of further pressures on reducing costs and sustaining key investments in those areas that really will help Europe keep the technology lead.  And if this was not tough enough, emerging markets are queuing up to ‘take’ our lead.

Our future will be about our business and government leaders remaining focused on the prize of high-value jobs, technology and IPR, and they must not be afraid of making bold decisions on sustaining investments and creating the economic conditions that promote collaboration and innovation.  After all, 57,000 new aircraft worth US$5.3 Trillion gives us all in aerospace a fantastic and rewarding future to aim for.



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