Three regions – one goal

The UK’s aerospace giants are committed to major global projects, which will ensure a good platform for the Farnborough air show. Mark Venables reports.

The UK has the world’s largest aerospace industry outside the US, with aerospace-based activity responsible for more than £17bn turnover in 2004 and supporting a highly-skilled workforce of over 255,000.

Our involvement in projects such as the Airbus A380, JSF and Boeing 787 will ensure a good platform for Europe‘s premier aerospace event, the biennial Farnborough air show (17-23 July Farnborough Airfield, Hampshire) where many of the companies will be out in force.

Three regions — the east of England, the north-west and the Midlands — are fighting to earn their share of that market, and with companies such as Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Goodrich and Marshall Aerospace within those areas, they are well placed to capitalise.

The Midlands aerospace cluster generates more than 45,000 jobs in local companies, many of them high-skill programme development and management or manufacturing jobs. In addition to this, supporting companies and organisations generate thousands of other jobs.

Aerospace systems designed and made in the area are found on the world’s most advanced aircraft. The region is strongly focused on industry growth markets in civil aerospace, with over 75 per cent of sales going to civil markets.

The eastern region, which takes in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, boasts a rich aerospace heritage in terms of manufacture and services, civil and military establishments. Names such as Handley Page, De Havilland, Hawker Siddeley, English Electric, Percival, The Royal Aircraft Establishment at Bedford and BAC have long been associated with the region.

That heritage continues today, and the region is home to some of the world’s aerospace giants, including BAE Systems, Matra BAE Dynamics, Smiths Industries, Cobham Aerospace, GKN Westland, Astrium, TRW, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. Additionally, Boeing McDonald carries out significant sub-contract work in the region. Supporting all of these are many smaller firms providing products and services to the sector.

The north-west can boast of more than 100 major aircraft types that have their roots in the area. It played a leading role in the development of the modern jet engine during the 1940s and was the meeting place of Henry Rolls and Charles Royce. The area was home to the world’s first purpose-built aircraft production facility and among the world-class products designed and developed here are Nimrod, Tornado, Airbus wings and the RB-211 jet engine.

All the areas run specific aerospace programmes. The Midland Aerospace Alliance (MAA) runs the Aerospace Market Consortium project (AMCP) that will develop business support designed to increase competitiveness of West Midlands aerospace suppliers as the global supply chain restructures.

‘The project will lead to the development of models, in the form of a menu of blueprints, so that companies can pool their resources and collaborate in market-facing consortiums,’ said marketing manager Grace Sheppard.

Lessons will be sought in terms of successes and failures of other consortium models that have been tried elsewhere. Potential customers are being surveyed to understand the needs that a consortium can address.

The current development phase is funded by Advantage West Midlands. One of the project outputs will be a proposal for delivery phase funding to support companies in forming teams to bid for business opportunities.

The MAA has also been awarded a two-year contract worth £700,000 by Advantage West Midlands to run an Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme, (ATEP). The programme started in January 2006 and the idea is to support the development and competitiveness of aerospace businesses in the West Midlands through the extension and exploitation of supply chain-based new technology.

‘The project will support supply chain partnerships to pull through new technology in line with the Aerospace Innovation and Growth Team (AeIGT) National Technology Strategy, (NATS),’ explained Sheppard.

One of the key programmes run out of the Eastern region is the Galileo Masters Competition, which was set up in 2004 to identify potential applications for the Galileo Satellite System due to be operational by 2010. The UK took part for the first time in 2005 and 40 per cent of all the ideas came from the UK.

‘As members of the European Business Network (EBN) and the European Space Incubator Network (ESINET) Hertfordshire Business Incubator Centre (HBIC) is in a prime position to bring exciting initiatives to the UK,’ said Helen Ashby, business co-ordinator at HBIC, which runs the Eastern England Aerospace Alliance.

‘The centre is also involved in two other current programmes, both in the space sector.

‘One is INVESaT, that is bridging the gap between innovative enterprises and financial investors in the emerging market of satellite applications. The other is Sidereus which aims to increase economic co-operation between European and Asian SMEs in the aerospace sector, with a special focus on GALILEO-based satellite navigation applications.’

The project — which intends to put in place a number of specific business-to-business meetings — will select 100 Asian SMEs from China, India and Malaysia, and more than 150 from across the EU.

One of the shining lights in Midland aerospace is Rolls-Royce’s Derby facility. The latest version of the Trent engine, the 900, was recently in action powering the Airbus A380 on its first flight to the UK. As the launch engine for the programme, the Trent 900 is the only power plant so far to have taken part in flight-testing, which involves four A380s. Singapore Airlines will be the first customer to operate the aircraft, powered by the Trent 900, with initial deliveries starting this year.

The engine, whose hollow, titanium fan blades suck in over a ton of air a second, is claimed to be the world’s cleanest large turbofan, generating up to 80,000lbs of thrust at take-off. The engine also meets Heathrow’s QC2 noise level. This makes it significantly quieter than today’s largest passenger aircraft.

Since the Trent 900 powered the aircraft’s first flight just over a year ago, it has completed over 1100 flying hours on the four A380s in the test programme and the first customer aircraft, which made its maiden flight on 7 May.

The plane has completed the majority of its certification flying, including high altitude take-off work in Colombia, cold starts in northern Canada, as well as flying at all the world’s major air shows.

Mike Terrett, president of Civil Aerospace at Rolls-Royce, said: ‘The Trent 900 has consistently met, or bettered, its development targets, and continues to do so throughout the test programme. Our continued focus is on working with Airbus to ensure a smooth entry into service for the A380.’

With optimism like this there is no doubt that the UK aerospace sector is alive and well — even though it faces increasing competition from around the world.