European aerospace – Co-operate or die?

Added on 12 November 2010 by Tim Robinson

On the 1-2 December in Brussels a high-level conference will take place organised by ASD/CEAS, the two umbrella bodies for aerospace/defence trade associations and professional organisations like the Royal Aeronautical Society. Uniquely then, it is an event where European aerospace stakeholders from industry, politics and research will meet to discuss the top-level strategic issues facing the sector, today and in the future.

The A400M - European co-operation in aerospace but with a hefty price. (EADS)

So what sort of things will be on the agenda?

Education will be a strong theme. Like the US, Europe faces aging demographics and a declining pool of engineers to draw from. Inspiring and training the next generation of aerospace professionals by outreach programmes, careers advice and other measures will be vital.

European competitiveness, too, will be a major talking point. While intense rivalry with the US is already a feature of the global aerospace environment (especially in civil aerospace with Airbus and Boeing), new challengers are waiting in the wings. Brazil, for example, has seen its aerospace sector grow from regional aircraft to business aviation to where it is developing a military transporter for the global market. Canada’s CSeries, if successful, may be an entry point to the lucrative single-aisle airliner market. Finally China and India, too, have their own ambitions for their aerospace industries. How will Europe deal with these potential new competitors?

Greener aviation will help drive future development (Airbus)

The environment too will be high on the agenda at December’s meeting. With growth now starting to slowly return, green issues will again take on greater importance. Low-carbon solutions and the green agenda will help drive aerospace research and development.

European exploitation of space, too, is included in the programme. Particularly interesting will be any discussions around the development of a ‘European space policy’ which was put in place by the Lisbon treaty. Like aviation too, Europe faces new challengers and potential partners in space, such as China and India. How will it maintain its competitive advantage in launchers, satellites and other systems? Interestingly, one session will look at ‘applications for the benefits of the citizens’ – a rather long-winded title that recognises the commercial and social applications from space. With most smart phones now coming equipped with GPS and satellite imagery available for everyone – how will Europe meet future demand for these sorts of services?

Finally, and most importantly European co-operation and co-ordination will be a huge topic at the meeting. With the extreme pressure on government budgets, right across the EU, co-ordinating research and development has never been more important or vital. Synchronising the disparate activity to avoid wasteful duplication should, in theory, make everyone’s Euro (or pound) go farther.

Yet this still remains the biggest challenge. Despite successful projects such as Concorde, Jaguar and Tornado, political infighting and disagreement has marred the A400M and Eurofighter programmes – leading some to predict that bilateral agreements may be the way forward, rather than clumsy and large multilateral projects.

Some evidence of this may be in the recent Anglo-French defence and security agreement which, as well as co-operation between London and Paris on nuclear and naval aviation – also called for collaboration on UAV programmes.

The Dassault nEUROn - possible future friction between France, Germany and UK?

Yet here too, is potential for more infighting. Should the next European combat aircraft be an unmanned system, both London and Paris are already involved in significant UCAV programmes, for the UK BAE Systems with Taranis, for the French the pan-European (but Dassault-led) nEUROn UCAV. So could we  be in for a re-run of the Eurofighter/Rafale situation again – where national
interests lead to two competing European fighters (three if Sweden’s Gripen is included)? And who will Germany, (itself with its own UCAV project in the form of EADS Barrakuda) side with?

The irony here is that thanks to unwieldy, over budget, delayed aerospace projects such as the A400M, European governments are likely to be increasingly wary of being tied into a multinational combat aircraft project for fixed numbers – which is exactly what any UCAV programme would need to achieve economies of scale and secure development.

These sorts of issues and debates – which will shape the future of the European aerospace sector, means that December’s ASD-CEAS congress will be a very siginificant one indeed.

(For more information on the conference and how to register to attend, click here).

from the Royal Aeronautical Society

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