Aerospace Growth Partnership: a shared vision for UK aerospace

DCOThe Aerospace Growth Partnership was formed last year by the Government in conjunction with the wider aerospace industry, to create a strategic alliance designed to address the many challenges facing this multibillion-pound sector. Aerospace is an industry facing increasing global competition, and the AGP has been established to ensure the UK stays at the forefront internationally.

At present, the United Kingdom accounts for 17% of the global aerospace market. The UK has the largest aerospace industry in Europe, and is behind only the United States globally. The sector currently secures 100,000 direct UK jobs, generating £24.2 billion of revenue in 2011, 75% of which came from exports.

The Government points to investment in research and technology over a number of decades, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, as being the principal reason for the UK’s current success in this area. For instance, it is estimated that around half of the world’s modern large aircraft fly on wings manufactured in the UK.

UK companies also have world-class strengths in advanced systems such as landing gear, actuation, avionics, fuel and power supply, and continue to deliver innovative ways of providing services such as maintenance, repair and overhaul. In addition, the UK is one of only a handful of nations with the range of capabilities needed to design and build advanced helicopters.

Understanding the need to maintain manufacturing capability as well as driving wider growth, the UK Government has identified aerospace as an area for special focus in its policy for revitalising the British economy.

Facilitated by ADS – the leading UK trade organisation for defence, aerospace, security and space – the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP), in the words of its creators, was set up to ‘look at the challenges facing the industry’ and to ‘set a strategy that will ensure that the UK not only remains Europe’s largest aerospace industry, but supports UK companies at all levels of the supply chain to broaden and diversify their global customer base’.

Strategic planning will be key to the further development and future productivity of the AGP. It is currently estimated that UK aerospace is growing at a rate of 4.8% annually, and the sector is reckoned to be doubling in size every 15 years.

A shared vision

Chaired by Mark Prisk, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise and Marcus Bryson, CEO of GKN Aerospace and Land Systems the AGP is creating a ‘shared vision’ and plan for the UK aerospace industry for the next 15 years and beyond, covering everything from business jets to the very largest twin-aisle passenger aircraft and helicopters to advanced turbo props.

At last year’s Farnborough International Airshow, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced further details on the AGP, which is part of a total £200 million aerospace investment pledged by the Government.

Speaking at the event, Mr Cable outlined the wider role the AGP would play, highlighting the levels of opportunity anticipated over the coming decades.

He said: “The UK aerospace industry is a big success story. We have the top aerospace industry in Europe, and we are a lead supplier to the world’s aerospace market. We intend to keep it that way, but we can’t be complacent. Competition is increasing around the globe and it’s important we remain at the forefront of technology, manufacturing capability and skills.

“There are great opportunities ahead, with forecasts indicating that 27,000 new large civil airliners will be needed by 2030. We have the potential to grab a greater share of that market – but aerospace is a global industry and there are many other countries hoping to have a slice of the pie. That is why the Government is doing all it can to make the UK an attractive environment for aerospace – ensuring that companies are more likely to invest in jobs and facilities here with us.”

Reaching for the skies

The Farnborough event also saw the unveiling of the AGP’s official Strategic Vision for UK Aerospace, entitled ‘Reach for the Skies’. The document outlines how the AGP will adopt a three-tiered strategic approach. This consists of ‘Protect’ (0-5 years): looking at the capabilities we need to have now – identifying what currently exists in the UK and what actions may be necessary to make these fit for purpose to support the overall strategy; ‘Exploit’ (up to 2025): working together to identify programmes for UK industry, primarily on upgrades to existing aircraft and systems; and ‘Position’ (2025 and beyond): taking action now to position the UK to be as competitive as possible for all new aircraft that will enter service in the mid-2020s.

‘Reach for the Skies’ also details the evolving relationship between government and industry, and explains how the AGP will be underpinned by five working groups looking at Strategy, Technology, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Engagement.

The document draws many conclusions and identifies priorities regarding the future needs of the sector. These include the requirement to find new ways of team-working between industry and government and within supply chains; the need for a strategic long-term partnership with government providing consistency and certainty of research and technology funding; the need for industry to develop innovative product and process technologies in the short to medium term to secure market share; and for the long term, focus on the high-technology innovation and skills needed to help build tomorrow’s quieter and greener aircraft.

The report also highlights the need for a finance forum to increase communication and mutual understanding between banks and business, in theory increasing the availability of finance to ensure that growth opportunities can be exploited across the supply chain.

The establishment of the Aerospace Growth Partnership has been widely welcomed throughout industry; however, it is accepted that now is the time to put principles into action.

Graham Chisnall, Deputy Chief Executive of ADS, recently commented: “AGP now has to be translated into action meaningful to industry. The Government has definitely moved a long way in the right direction and is showing real commitment to our sector – it is a real step change for some of the UK’s most significant aerospace employers. What is now critical is that the UK aerospace industry and the Government implement the AGP strategy, involving significant investment in research and technology and improving the competitiveness of its supply chain.”

The AGP’s final report is due for publication in February – and with it, leaders say, the real work will begin.

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