Patrick Désiré is the General Director at Aerospace Valley and a graduate of National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon, France. Previously, he was responsible for space systems industrial innovation for Airbus DS, where he was in charge of defining the roadmap to establish the “Factories of the future” for Airbus group. Aerospace Valley, the worldwide competitiveness cluster, covers the regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Aquitania, in France. It is the main European job centre focused in aeronautics, space and on-board systems with 130.000 industrial job opportunities, 1.600 companies and 8.500 researchers.
“European R&D stakeholders are at the leading edge of innovation.”
What do you think about the forecasts of the aerospace sector and the coming trends that are going to mark the future?
Generally, market forecasts are optimistic, not only in the business of civil aircrafts with impressive order backlogs for the main players Boeing and Airbus, but also in the regional aircraft sector. Yet, the situation is more complicated in the sectors of high-end business jets and helicopters. The market of business jet is affected by the economic situation (Brazil, Chine) and/or the geopolitical context (Russia) in the BRIC countries while part of the difficulties encountered in the helicopter market is related to the low oil price and the impact on the (off-shore) oil & gas activities.
The big economical and societal challenges in the civil aircraft sector are related to security, safety and environmental issues. From the industrial perspective the challenges are related to a well-performing supply chain including novel procedures often covered under the so-called “Industry 4.0” label, new disruptive technologies such as additive manufacturing or more electric equipment.
Which is the role of Europe in the aviation business worldwide and in which aspects must improve to be more competitive?
There is not much doubt that Europe, jointly with the United States, is a worldwide leader in the field of aerospace and aviation industry. This is valid under both an industrial perspective but also, mainly, in terms of innovation and R&D activities. Here European R&D stakeholders are at the leading edge of innovation, sometime offering disruptive products. The general weakness is more on the financial side and related to intrinsic Dollar dependency of the aviation business in general. Further, there certainly is also still room for cost optimisation provided national completion can be overcome.
Why is so important a cluster culture to advance in the sector? Have we got enough culture of partnership and business cooperation in Europe?
Yes, generally speaking, European industry but also R&D stakeholders have developed a significant culture of bilateral and collaborative partnerships. Certainly by far more than our global competitors located in Asia or America. There are two main drivers behind: i/ Airbus as an integrated pan-European four-nation industry player but also, ii/ the European Commission through the different successive innovation Framework programs started nearly 30 years ago. Regional clusters, which have been initiated during the last decade in nearly all European countries, aim at fostering local eco-systems, strengthened more recently by the Smart Specialisation Strategies implemented on regional level. Many of these regional clusters are in turn connected in European-wide networks such as the successful European Aerospace Cluster Partnership (EACP) for the aerospace clusters.
How is changing the Factory of the Future or the Industry 4.0 the aerospace sector? In which projects is Aerospace Valley working in regarding this issue?
Aerospace Valley has recently adapted its nine strategic business groups that were defined upon the launch of the cluster’s activities back in 2005 in order to add a new group dedicated to Industry 4.0. This group todays gather 100+ of our members in order to exchange experience and best practice on cluster level. Members of this group also actively contribute to initiatives on European level, for example Aerospace Valley will act as core partner in the future South-West European KIC on Advanced Manufacturing.
Last year Aerospace Valley cluster celebrated 10 years. What are the main challenges achieved in this decade?
During this period of the past 10 years since its creation Aerospace Valley has allowed its members and R&D stakeholders to conduct collaborative research projects with an accumulated value of 1.1 B€. This represents an impressive amount for research which has been covered by 35% through public funding. Beyond R&D our cluster has successfully contributed to the restructuring of the supply chain, to the support of our SMEs on various matters like the financial engineering, export activities, the implementation of lean manufacturing procedures or related to the Factory of the Future (cf. above).
Aerospace Valley works in the screening and analysis of EU calls for proposals for its members. Are SMEs able to expand their participation in EU Research and Innovation projects or it is hard to compete with the big companies?
The issue here is not any competition between our SMEs and the larger companies. In fact, often they jointly participate to standard collaborative R&D projects on EU-level. Under the current Horizon 2020 program the Clean Sky 2 joint technology initiative represents a significant funding scheme for applied research which is entirely driven, and partially funded, by the major European aerospace industrial players. Who frequently launch competitive calls for proposals primarily addressed to SMEs. Thus a particular relationship on R&D level is established between large firms and their suppliers.
Do you think there will be a loss of influence of public budgets in the European aerospace business?
Yes, without any doubts, sometimes significant, budget restrictions on both national and regional level will certainly have an impact on the aerospace sector, in particular in the field of innovation and the public co-funding of collaborative R&D activities. But globally our aerospace business is in a relative comfortable situation compared to other economic sectors.