Flat civil aero market fails to dim bright Paris mood

Posted on 18 Jun 2009 by The Manufacturer

Rain over the 2009 Paris Air Show at Le Bourget failed to dampen the mood in the UK exhibitors’ pavilion. Will Stirling reports from Paris on firms including Aero Sekur, Cobham and Dunlop Aircraft Tyres.

Pictured: Aero Sekur have struck a deal with Eurocopter-HAIG to supply ts proprietary non-pyrotechnic inflation system (NIPS) to Eurocopter’s EC175-Z15 helicopter.

The Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) recently released its annual civil aerospace report predicting flat growth in the civil sector in 2009 and further challenges to growth in 2010, including the ‘dollarization’ of the aerospace industry, prolonged delays to orders for lucrative projects like the Airbus A380 and Boeing Dreamliner 787, falls in private jet sector undermining suppliers to both sectors and greater competition from emerging markets in Brazil, Mexico and China.

Despite acknowledging that orders in the civil aerospace sector were falling, several UK companies had good news to report. UK suppliers to both civil and defence markets were quietly bullish about new business, bucking the expectations that orders would be muted in the dour economic climate. Some companies have expanded their production facilities recently, home and abroad, and some gave insights into improving business prospects in the key emerging markets of Brazil, China and India.

Aero Sekur, a British-owned manufacturer of safety equipment and advanced flexible structures, won a contract to supply its proprietary non-pyrotechnic inflation system (NIPS) to Eurocopter HAIG’s, EC175-Z15 helicopter. It is the company’s first contract for Eurocopter-HAIG. The company also recently supplied a life-raft system for the Agusta Westland AW139 medium twin-engine helicopter.

Developed in-house, the NIPS mechanism uses safe technology based on an ‘on-condition’ system that avoids any ignition or explosion, is reusable and is designed to eliminate the need for routine replacement.

Tom Crannan, the newly-appointed head of UK sales, said interest in the company’s products at the show had been very encouraging. “We’ve also been asked to tender for the design and production of a landing system for a rotary UAV (unmanned aviation vehicle) with an associated parachute system by a European company, as well as other enquiries. I’m very happy with the response thus far.”

Managing director Mark Butler said business in general for the company, which manufactures in Italy with design and management near Farnborough, was brisk and that it was planning to establish a manufacturing base near Oxford in 2010 for its space landing system, which is designed to cushion the landing gear of lunar and Mars landing modules. (Interviews with Mark and other Paris Air Show exhibitors will be added to the Audio and Video section of themanufacturer.com).

Cobham, the global communications and safety systems manufacturer for civil and military markets, received an initial contract from Airbus to supply high gain satellite antennas (HGA) for use on single aisle and long range passenger jets. The antenna will be fitted to A320 family aircraft currently in production pending certification.

The HGA-7001 model will be used to enable long range communications with ATC on the flight deck. This antenna is able to support the latest Inmarsat services for cabin applications including internet, VPN, email and telephone. Allan Cook, CEO, said: “The selection of our high gain satellite antennas by Airbus, following a rigorous evaluation and selection process, is a further endorsement of our leading edge technology. It is the smallest in its class, reducing drag and fuel consumption and consolidates our position as the market leader for SATCOM antennas.”

Another antenna-manufacturer at the other end of the scale, Cooper Antennas, reported several big contracts. The company, which makes high performance antenna systems for airborne and ground applications, was established by ex-Cobham executive Geoff Cooper in 2006. Supplying mainly the US military market, along with their US affiliate Aviatech Corporation, the company had received a $7.5m contract before the show from the US Air Force for a combined Satcom line-of-sight antennas for fitting to F-16 aircraft. The contract includes incorporating composite radomes into structural farings on the upper surface of the planes and will be delivered within the next nine months.

Also with Aviatech Corp, Cooper received a second contract from Defense Supply Centre Columbus for ruggedized ‘X’ wing UHF Satcom antennas worth over $500,000. The antennae, also suitable for various ground vehicle applications have been designed to withstand severe operational conditions, including supporting the weight of a fully laden soldier. And a third contract was secured from a big European avionics manufacturer for ILS Localiser and Glidescope antennas for use on supersonic fighter aircraft.

CEO Geoff Cooper, who self-financed the business in 2005/6, said so far the company’s growth had exceeded his expectations. “I wanted to be breaking even after five years with no bank debt. Three years from its start, we have enough money in the bank to repay the start-up capital but it’s there to reinvest,” he said. “One could say we are reliant to one or two very important clients [US government] but they have been very reliable, recession or not.”

Dunlop Aircraft Tyres launched a range of new radial tyres at the Show, including a radial tyre set for the Embraer 190 E-Jet and also a range of new tyres for the CRJ1000 Bombardier jet, for which they planned to sign a contract with the aircraft maker later this week. “Its exciting because they’ve got some new orders for that aircraft in Europe later this year,” said Ian Edmondson, chairman and MD of Dunlop Aircraft Tyres. Also on show were radials for the Airbus A3120, coming into production later in 2009, and the ATR turbo prop radial tyres which is also due on the market this year.

The company completed a joint venture with Chinese partners in 2008 to build a new retreading plant, which has just been completed and is now commissioning. “Aircraft tyres are often retreaded, not replaced, so the only way to sell new tyres is to sell the service to retread them in the region,” said Edmondson. “We worked hard at finding the right partner, and we think we’ve got that. Here we have a combination of local knowledge but a company that is ultimately owned by the UK group. We bring a famous brand – Dunlop, applied to aircraft tyres – which has lingered from Britain’s strong historical legacy in Asia. That is one of the strength’s of the UK – having powerful brand names that are almost better known in distant parts of the world than they are sometimes in Europe. A local partner is vital thought.”

Makers of electrical interconnection systems, Kembrey, had booked five very important meetings to discuss several new contracts at the show, which chairman Dick Martin hoped to fulfil over the next few months. Their service offering extends beyond manufacturing, says Martin, where Kembrey is exploring a number of opportunities globally, not all of which are within the conventional manufacturing model, i.e manufacturing in the UK and exporting overseas. “We can see the opportunities for selling one of our best products, that is capability transfer, overseas – selling them the capability to manufacture these components are interconnection systems themselves.”

The biggest opportunity they have identified is in Brazil, where the government has offered sponsorship of military contracts with foreign partner tie-ups. They expect it could be the best opportunity for the next five or six years, where they hope to either enter in a joint venture or engage with an existing Brazilian company in order to make the capability transfer possible.

Will Stirling

More coverage of news from UK manufacturers at the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, in its 100th year, will follow. The show continues until Sunday June 21