“For the future, aerospace matters”

Posted on 19 Jul 2010 by The Manufacturer

Vince Cable's speech to the Farnborough Air Show

Great to see so many exhibitors here – both British and international. This is – I am told – the world’s largest temporary exhibition. Farnborough is a great showcase for latest innovations in aviation technology and advanced engineering. I guess many of us still have a little boy inside us, and it is a great thrill for me to be at my first airshow since I went to those on wartime aerodromes around York half a century ago – to see Vulcans, Victors, Hunters and Cornets: the exciting new planes of that era.

Aerospace has a proud history in the UK. Earns more than £20bn a year. Almost a fifth of the global market. 3000 UK firms in the sector – the largest in Europe. Of course, aerospace and defence increasingly driving the forefront of the space and security industries.

It’s not widely known that the UK builds the entire payload for a quarter of the world’s communications satellites and is home to arguably the world’s most successful small satellite manufacturer – Astrium. Even through the recession, where a great many industries suffered, aerospace has supported a quarter of a million jobs. For the future the aerospace industry matters for some important reasons.

It’s at a technological frontier, tackling a huge and inevitable technological transition to low carbon. The gains to the most successful movers in that transition can be huge and British firms have the potential to be part of that.
It is UK-based teams that are making some of the most exciting breakthroughs on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution – and you can see some of that work on display here. This is important to me, as I represent one of the Heathrow constituencies.

It’s a big exporter – many of the companies here today are British firms making a global impact. We need that. One of the key ways in which we can rebalance the UK economy after a decade of debt-fuelled – and frankly illusory – growth is by rebuilding our export strengths.

British aerospace is right at the centre of this. After pharmaceuticals this is the UK sector that spends the most on research and technology. Reinvests about 10% of turnover. We are a global supply chain economy. Our supply chain niches are all linked to high levels of knowledge and technology and the value that it adds.

So the commitment to knowledge and technology driven manufacturing – and all the service industries that support it – is something I want to back to the hilt. We are committed to making sure that the research base, and the skilled people that the industry needs to compete are in place. Big sectoral employers like Rolls have extensive and effective graduate and apprentice programmes and these are things that we are going to keep backing, even through a time of budget constraint. Because they are the foundations of tomorrow’s success.

It is no secret that when I first came into power one of the first papers on my desk was asking me to find almost £1 billion. We have recycled vast amounts of our budget to put funding into Apprenticeships. And it’s also important to note that the sector is a huge regional employer and an engine of some of regional economies. After a decade in which to much growth in the UK has slid inexorably into the South East, our strengths at Derby and Filton and Broughton are valuable regional sources of strength and growth.

Of course, this industry faces some challenging times. But the fundamentals of what it does and the demand for it should be cause for inspiration. The industry reckons passenger numbers will continue to grow at more than 4% a year for the next fifteen years – higher in Asia and the BRICS. (Airports Council International 2008).
We’re going to have to consistently push down the impact of that growth on the environment; the technological advances this sector is on the cusp of should make it one of the most exciting in advanced manufacturing. And I see part of the challenge of achieving that in the work we are doing to produce a new generation of British engineers and aviation experts with the skills and vision to drive it.

With that in mind, I have agreed to chair regular meetings with aerospace business leaders to focus on major strategic issues facing the aerospace sector. This will set the direction for action by a wider business/government Growth Partnership group chaired by Mark Prisk, involving ADS and representatives across the UK aerospace supply chain, to drive enterprise and growth. So you are going to be seeing more of me.

I’m on my way to take a look at an Airbus A380. A380 is as good an example as any of strength of Aerospace Industry in Britain and wider Europe. Wings designed by Airbus at Filton and made by Airbus at Filton and Broughton, Trent 900 engines made by Rolls-Royce and nose-landing gear made by Messier-Dowty. 400 UK companies supply equipment for A380 programme. It’s big, it’s the greenest plane ever of its scale and it is going to change the way we fly and I’m a little proud that 40% of it is UK-made.