Aerospace firms plead for help

Companies want something back after estimating that Government will grab £500m `reverse windfall’

The aerospace industry this week made an urgent call for £100m a year in Government research funding for the sector, in recognition of its proven high rate of return. Companies would match the investment.

The call supports comments made by Chris Geoghegan, managing director of British Aerospace Airbus in The Engineer (27 March). He said research and development spending needed to rise four or five fold if UK technology is not to be left behind.

Figures produced by the Society of British Aerospace Companies this week show the sector is likely to pay the Government £500m over the next five years. The sums are based on the sales levy and royalty repayments due to be made by aerospace firms from past Government investments in Airbus airliners and Rolls-Royce engine programmes.

`This payment is a reverse windfall for the Government,’ said Mike Turner, SBAC president. `We are calling on the new Government to work with us to reinvest some of this money in carefully selected technology initiatives we must have if we are to remain competitive into the next century.’

He said the SBAC would press its case for Government investment in its Foresight Action technology demonstrator programme, to which industry has already pledged half the money required. While the Ministry of Defence `seems to be fully engaged, the Department of Trade and Industry’s response has so far been very disappointing.’

The DTI’s Commercial Aircraft Research and Demonstration budget is about £22m a year – much less than the £100m France and Germany spend.

The SBAC said the value of aerospace projects with a UK content would amount to £90bn over the next 20 years. British aerospace firms have won more than £5bn of business since September’s Farnborough air show.

As Geoghegan said: `Underlying technologies that go into our products today are the ones we invested in 20 years ago. It’s difficult to see how, with the resources that the companies can bring to bear and the Government brings to bear, we are going to replenish that technology over the next 20-25 years.’