QinetiQ CEO Sir John Chisholm has urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to develop programmes for the long-term strategic direction of the aerospace industry, ensuring that the UK holds its place as the world’s second largest aerospace technology developer and manufacturer.
Giving evidence to the Commons’ Trade and Industry Select Committee inquiry into the competitiveness of the UK aerospace industry, Sir John said that while QinetiQ supported the three-year, £150 million DTI Technology Programme, the scheme did not cover the larger-scale R&D projects that were essential for the continuing development and exploitation in the UK of world-leading technologies.
“It can take up to 15 years for new technologies to be pulled through into the market, but the benefits, when the technology is fully developed, can be widespread,” said Sir John. “The aerospace business is powerful vehicle for pulling through numerous technologies which in turn feed into other industries. It would be difficult, for example, to imagine the existence of the multi-billion pound Formula 1 motor racing business in this country without the innovative influence of aerospace technology.
“It is this powerful ripple effect throughout the UK economy which makes the industry so important and this is one of the reasons why investment needs to be long term.”
While QinetiQ had achieved one of the best performances from a UK company in terms of project funding from the DTI’s Technology Programme, Sir John expressed concern that the initiative discouraged the submission of proposals for longer-term research projects.
Sir John said that the long investment horizon in the aerospace industry, the so-called Innovation Gap, means that it can take decades to bring a technology to market. While the UK had historically supported longer-term projects, it was the US that offered the best model, from government and the investment community, for long term project support.
Sir John stressed that a strong long-term national strategy for aerospace, supported in an appropriate form by Government, would attract more international aerospace business to the UK.
“The aerospace industry contributes significantly to wealth creation and quality of life, both directly and in terms of technology spin-off to other sectors. The role of Government is more important in aerospace than in almost any other industrial sector,” said Sir John. “Government acts as a market force and, in terms of UK technology, it has played an extremely effective role in this respect. While its support for the aerospace industry is creditable, it must refocus again to include large scale projects which will secure the UK’s international standing.”