UK government and aerospace industry commit $3 billion towards research into cleaner, quieter aircraft
Tue 19 March 2013 – In an effort to secure the UK’s fragile position as the world’s second-largest aerospace sector after the United States, the UK government has announced an Aerospace Industrial Strategy that will see £2 billion ($3bn) invested over the next seven years equally between government and industry. The funding will go into research and development in four key areas of modern aircraft in which the UK is already particularly strong: wings, engines, aerostructures and advanced systems. Underpinning the strategy will be the setting up of a UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) that will allow industry and academic researchers to develop technology for the next generation of quieter, more energy efficient aircraft and secure in the UK the R&D activity necessary to win work on future aircraft programmes.
“Aerospace experts with highly specialised skills are working hard to make sure the UK remains Europe’s number one aerospace manufacturer. We’re doing all we can to maintain this jewel in our crown, which is why government is working hand in hand with industry to inject £2 billion into a unique long-term strategy to maintain Britain’s position as the centre of aerospace technology,” announced Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg during a visit to the Airbus facility in Filton.
“The UK’s best technical experts can ensure we remain the world’s preferred supplier and continue to build and design the planes of the future – lighter, quieter, faster and more fuel efficient.”
According to a report outlining the strategy, ‘Lifting Off – Implementing the Strategic Vision for UK Aerospace’, global growth in air travel will only be sustainable if future aircraft deliver substantial improvements in environmental performance, in particular noise and carbon emissions, and reductions in operating costs of at least 20%.
“Achieving these will be essential for the reputation of the sector as well as for future competitiveness,” it says. “It can only be achieved with radical design changes and new manufacturing methods. Industry is already taking decisions on where to carry out the R&D activities that will shape these aircraft. The boundaries between research, design, development and manufacturing are becoming increasingly blurred and so ensuring that key capabilities are developed and anchored in the UK is critical to the long-term future of our aerospace manufacturing sector.”
The report adds that with the development of new aircraft taking 10-15 years, industry had made it clear to government that long-term predictability and stability of government funding for R&D was a key factor in determining where it chooses to invest, and the UK needed to do better in this respect.
“Now is the time to prevent any further decline in the UK’s aerospace sector through investment in next generation aircraft technology,” it says. “This is critical if we are to secure work on aircraft upgrade and engine refresh programmes and on the next generation of aircraft. The government has indicated that it understands the need to address this.”
Setting up the ATI will be key to sustaining the UK’s competitiveness and supporting the long-term, targeted technology strategy, says the report. The ATI will consist of a small core team of around 30-50 staff primarily seconded from industry and academia, with the role of leading on the development of the strategy, prioritise areas for work, scope programmes, map where capabilities exist across the UK, assess the actions needed to make these fit for purpose and carry out small-scale capability building activities. Improvements enabled by the ATI are expected to lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 100 million tonnes each year from next-generation aircraft.
The strategy also tackles access to finance issues faced by the sector, caused by the heavy up-front investment costs and long timescales required to make a return. An Aerospace Finance Forum has been established that will see aerospace companies working with banks and professional services firms. Barclays and RBS are said to have committed to creating a network of regional aerospace finance specialists.
“Our aerospace sector already supports more than 3,000 companies and employs 230,000 people across the UK,” said Business Secretary Vince Cable, who chairs an aerospace business leaders group. “The potential for growth is huge. By 2031 the civil aerospace market will be worth in excess of $4.5 trillion.”