Keith Mans, new director of the Royal Aeronautical Society, has been steeped in flying since he joined the RAF in his teens. He came to our interview from a morning spent flying with RAF cadets, keen to talk about the challenges facing the aerospace industry which, he says, is entering a critical phase.
‘There are two significant issues of concern: safety and the environment,’ Mans says. ‘Considering the volume of global air transport, the level of accidents is very low compared to other forms of transport. But the number of flights will increase substantially over the next decade, so the number of accidents is bound to rise; it’s a matter of statistics, not poor technology.
‘Aeronautical engineers will have to concentrate on this area and our society has a number of working groups which could offer imaginative solutions.’
More controversially, Mans claims the aerospace community has not fully absorbed the impact of environmental regulations. Green lobbies and international government bodies want emissions of nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide to be cut.
‘There are strong analogies with the warning signals in the nuclear industry. Decisions are being made at government or EU level which could have dramatic implications for the future of the aerospace industry. We have to ensure that people are educated about what is and isn’t possible with regard to aerospace technology.
‘As well as the need to reduce emissions, people want more efficient, lighter engines. In the past, payload has been more important than environmental issues, so aircraft were designed to optimise shape and increase payload. Increasing demands for international environmental regulations could alter the emphasis.’
Since the end of the cold war, there has been increasing integration between the defence and commercial sectors of the aerospace industry. ‘The classic way of thinking is that defence technology has spin-offs in the commercial sector. In future, there will be spin-offs in the other direction, particularly in electronics and system integration. The methodology of designing and building commercial aircraft will be used in defence programmes to reduce timescales and costs, using standard components which are commercially available, rather than customised parts.’
Mans, 52, has been a pilot since 17. On graduating from the RAF College in Cranwell he served as a flight lieutenant in the RAF for 12 years, flying Vulcan and Canberra aircraft.
He stayed a pilot in the RAF Reserve, and gained a BA in Economics and Political Science with the Open University. He went on to gain management experience with the John Lewis Partnership before becoming MP for Wyre in 1987.
Mans was chairman of the Parliamentary Aerospace Group and chairman of the Conservative Defence Committee. He also served on defence and environmental select committees, before losing his seat in the 1997 election.
With the Parliamentary Aerospace Group, Mans says he was keen to create a forum where people from the aerospace industry could meet informally with MPs with an interest in aerospace. He remains secretary of the group. He is also a government adviser to the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), which now has a parliamentary forum.
Mans is committed to the development of the RAeS, where he took over last month. It is the oldest aeronautical society, founded in 1866 for the advancement of aeronautical art, science and engineering.
The society is a nominated body of the Engineering Council with the power to nominate engineers for professional registration. Its specialist committees help draw up strategy or influence policy in air law, airworthiness and maintenance, flight operations, environmental factors, new methods of propulsion and structures and materials.
Via the SBAC, the society is also involved in the DTI-funded Foresight Action programmes which identify future aerospace industry needs. Mans is particularly keen on Foresight Action’s five projects to demonstrate civil and military technology.
UK aerospace companies have invested more than £20m, with a third contributed by the DTI, for the first three of these projects: the powered wing project for new airliners; the flight crew environment project; and the ultra-relaible aircraft programme.
The RAeS will be important in supporting the SBAC’s bid for government funds for the £300m follow-up, which aims to take preliminary studies of next generation rotorcraft and guided weapons projects to the next stage. Mans says the ideal solution would be for government and industry to split the costs 50:50, but this is unlikely.
The projected schemes could provide £90bn of business within the next 15 years for several civil and military projects, contributing to the Airbus A3XX or a possible rival 500-seat passenger jet from Boeing, and the next generation of European combat aircraft.
‘We still lack resources for demonstrator phases of new aero-technology, which are vital to the survival of our industry so that we can win a substantial share of forthcoming global projects. If you can demonstrate the technology, risk and costs reduce further down the line.’
Keith Mans at a glance
Education: Berkhamsted School, RAF College Cranwell,
BA Economics and Political Science, Open University
First job: Flight Lieutenant, RAF
Current job: Director of The Royal Aeronautical Society
Interests: Flying (with the RAF Reserve), politics, sailing