Industry leaders have urged aerospace businesses in the West Midlands to diversify in order to take advantage of opportunities when the economy recovers.
At an event organised by regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, members of the region’s Aerospace Cluster Forum spoke of challenges currently facing UK aviation.
Robert Nuttall, vice-president of strategic marketing at Rolls-Royce, spoke of the company’s strategy of broadening its portfolio in order to guide it through the recession and be in the best position for the economic upturn.
Nutall said: ‘The key is to invest. If you don’t invest now, you will not be ready for the upturn. It is a tough message – we are all broke – but if we don’t invest and miss that upswing, we are all in real trouble.’
Prof Andrew Walker, from the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester, said: ‘The commercial aerospace industry is in for a very hard landing. We are not going to build many more planes in the next 10 years than we built in the last 10 years. We will have to find another way to grow – through manufacturing.
‘We need more efficient aircraft, composite frames, efficient engine controls and fuel-saving technologies. We are at the Eureka moment.’
Despite the current recession, growth is forecast in the aerospace industry over the next 20 years. Jim Coyle, Aerospace Cluster manager at Advantage West Midlands, spoke of the opportunities ahead.
‘Our aerospace and defence sectors include more than 480 companies employing 20,000 people and generating an annual turnover of £3bn,’ said Coyle. ‘These businesses operate at truly world-class standards and underpin a huge amount of high-value jobs, with some of the larger companies in the region investing heavily in research and development.
‘We are already a supporter of the World Class Supply Chain for the 21st Century programme, and a key player in the Next Generation Composite Wing project, led by Airbus, and the Environmentally Friendly Engine programme, headed by Rolls-Royce.
‘And our own technology exploitation programme led by the MAA means our companies are already working together on the new technologies highlighted as crucial to the success and future of the global, national and regional aerospace industry.
‘With billions of pounds of potential global contracts up for grabs in the next 10 years alone, it is essential that we give the region the best possible opportunity to win our fair share of orders.’