With economic uncertainty and unresolved Brexit issues on the horizon, it’s a troubling time for the UK’s aerospace industry. The Manufacturer sat down with Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, to discuss some of the key issues, and how we can choose the right path to ensure stability.
“No deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome, and our position has not changed since the referendum in 2016,” said Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, the trade organisation representing more than 1,000 companies across the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors.
“At some point, we need to take a more pragmatic approach, and have a sensible discussion in Parliament,” added Paul, speaking at a pre-Paris Air Show briefing.
“It’s probably too late to reach an agreement by 31 October, as nothing much happens within the EU in August, but I just hope that over the next month or two, we can have a more honest dialogue.”
He added that if we go for a no deal Brexit, the benefits and advantages – when compared with our current trading environment – are not there.
Moreover, nations outside the EU “will not do trade deals with us until they know what type of relationship we have with the EU. The relationship with the EU is fundamental to our future trading arrangements”.
Erosion of competitiveness
And when it comes to smaller manufacturers they don’t have the resources – money or warehousing – to stockpile enormous amounts of material, added Paul.
SMEs are also struggling to keep hold of the ‘buffer stocks’ they need, and even though “the small companies I interact with aren’t distressed – yet – they’re just in a holding pattern right now”.
“What we really fear is a slow and steady erosion of our competitiveness, over several years, leading to UK firms missing out on big investments,” said Paul. “We’ve already seen a decline in UK aerospace R&D since 2017, as companies move their investments elsewhere. UK companies are also being told that they can’t take part in tendering processes due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.”
However, on a more positive note, Paul argued that the UK is still a “key aerospace player within the European market, and nobody is going to give up that position without a fight”.
‘No Deal’ off the table
“If you say ‘we will not leave without a deal, we just won’t go’ we can all relax,” Paul continued. “That’s all we want to hear from the government to calm everyone’s nerves. But, if you say ‘we might leave without a deal’ then we’ll need to have lots of contingencies in place.
“Now, that doesn’t mean that we’ll be competitive – it just means we can probably avoid massive costs and delays. Sadly, some politicians really don’t understand that distinction.”
“It’s not a lack of information that’s a problem for MPs,” Paul continued, “as we’re always having talks with them, telling them what we think the situation is, and the problems we face.”
He pointed to the entrenched positions of large sections of Parliament, and the problems this is causing in getting the withdrawal agreement through both houses.
When asked about the possibility of working with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party, he replied rather diplomatically that he would “work with any government, no matter who they are”.
Cautious economic climate
With regard to the general economic climate, Paul admitted to be a little cautious, with a few issues on the horizon: the Boeing 737 Max groundings [two separate crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max have claimed 346 lives in the last few months], an unsettled trading environment, and Brexit.
“From a UK point of view, all this makes people feel a little less secure,” said Paul, but on the other hand “passenger number trends keep going up, so in the longer term there’s reason to be confident”.
“As for the 737 Max issues, we haven’t felt any industry tremors yet,” Paul added. “We’re all still waiting for the crash reports to come back, check the conclusions, then we can look at certifications and the regulatory regime that surrounds aircraft manufacturing.
“If we’re going to be introducing new technology, we’re going to need a new regulatory environment. Obviously, safety has to be our top priority, but we also need a framework that lets us innovate.”
“We’re continuing to work on our, and our partners’, environmental performance, and from a UK industrial perspective we need to see this as a massive industrial opportunity, and the chance to invest in technology,” said Paul.
“We’re already making incremental improvements, such as biofuels, and the bigger leap will be the electrification of flight.”
“There are significant challenges that mean we do not expect to see all-electric powered flight for large commercial aircraft in the short-term, and major developments in battery technology will be necessary before they are both powerful and light enough to power, and be carried on, aircraft,” he added.
“What we will likely see first will be electric-hybrid aircraft using both electric motors and traditional jet fuel engines – possibly powered using sustainable aviation fuels – to make substantial efficiencies in fuel use for both passenger and freight aviation.
“The principal environmental issues within aviation over the next few years will be those of construction and powering of batteries, and it’s important to maximise the benefits of clean electric power by making sure that the UK is using environmentally friendly electricity generation as far as possible.”
“We’re getting a little help from programmes such as the UK Aerospace Sector Deal, to help the industry develop flight technology of the future, and it commits up to £125m from the government for the Future Flight Challenge, developing new technology, including electric aircraft and urban air vehicles,” said Paul.
“In fact, urban mobility vehicles can act as a testbed for larger electric aircraft, using existing technology to push the industry forward. We need to prioritise aerospace investment and increase funding for the sector so we can get to cleaner and greener aircraft,” he added.
Attracting the young
“Young people can be encouraged to join the aerospace and aviation sectors when they attend the Paris or Farnborough air shows. In fact, it’s happened in the past. A big part of the show is about getting people, young people, to come and work in our sector. This industry has been wholeheartedly behind solving the UK’s skills and education gap,” said Paul.
“Encouraging more young people to take up engineering is a national challenge, and it is one that the aerospace industry as a whole takes extremely seriously and is trying to challenge,” said Paul.
“Many companies in our sector run initiatives with local schools and colleges to encourage young people to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and many have company STEM ambassadors,” he said.
Paul Everitt Biography
Paul Everitt is the Chief Executive of ADS. He has more than 20 years’ experience of public policy and media campaigns in the manufacturing and transport sectors.
He is a member of the AGP (Aerospace Growth Partnership) and DGP (Defence Growth Partnership) and is well known across Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels as a champion of UK manufacturing and respected advocate of industry issues and concerns.
Paul joined ADS in February 2013 and was previously chief executive of SMMT, the trade association for the UK motor industry.
ADS has more than 30 Special Interest Groups, formed of members with similar professional specialisms. All groups deliver activities that are led by members, and cover areas including aerospace exports, aircraft interiors, maritime, training and simulation, and environmental issues.
For more information about ADS: www.adsgroup.org.uk
This article first appeared in the July issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe
*Images courtesy of Depositphotos