Global technology and skills race threatens UK’s aerospace status

Posted on 29 Nov 2012 by Tim Brown

Leading manufacturers and suppliers to aerospace businesses have united with the Aerospace, Defence and Security body (ADS) to warn that a global technology and skills race threatens the UK’s ability to compete against new emerging economic powers.

Business leaders alongside the EEF and ADS met at the House of Lords to discuss the need for the UK economy to invest more in skills and technology ahead of the Government’s plans to announce its formal aerospace strategy under the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP)

The group of firms, including Rolls-Royce, BAE, Siemens and Turner & Townsend expressed full support for the AGP which seeks to jointly develop long term commitment from Government and industry to develop the sector, representing a fundamentally new and strategic way for Whitehall to work with business to tackle the challenges facing UK aerospace.

The group has been looking at the technologies, skills and supply chain changes that are needed – not just to retain the UK’s market strength but to bolster it ahead of fierce competition from BRIC countries.

Graham Chisnall, Deputy CEO of ADS praised the Government’s commitment to the sector but said that more needed to be done to ensure the future of the UK’s aerospace industry.

“What is now critical is that the UK aerospace industry and the Government implement the AGP strategy, involving significant investment in [research and technology], improving the competitiveness of its supply chain, building on the work of the Supply Chains for the 21st Century (SC21) change programme,” he said.

Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF added: “If manufacturing is to be the bedrock of our economy then a sustained period of investment in technology, education and the aerospace supply chain is crucial. We need a sprit of private and public sector cooperation to achieve this.”

The AGP is jointly chaired by Michael Fallon, Minister of State at the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), and Marcus Bryson, CEO of GKN Aerospace and ADS VP for Civil Aerospace. It has been established as a partnership between industry and Government to create a vision and strategy for the future of the UK aerospace industry for the next 15 years and beyond.

Siemens, Make it in Great Britain
Juergen Maier, Siemens Industry UK

Juergen Maier, MD of Siemens Industry said the AGP demonstrated “a very strong commitment” to growing a critical part of our economy but said it was critical to remain committed to investment in this area. “There is a global skills and technology race,” he said, “and if we don’t act quickly we will lose that race. We need a solid blue print for growth that will ensure the sector is strong not just for the next five years but the next 15 years too.”

Earlier this year the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and ADS launched its initial strategic vision for the sector, in a report titled ‘Reach for the skies: A Strategic Vision for UK Aerospace’, which established the long term basis for industry led growth for the sector.

Vincent Clancy, CEO of Turner & Townsend said: “The real engine of the UK’s aerospace industry is the world-class expertise of its people. If the sector cannot recruit enough qualified graduates, the fuel supply will be cut and the engine will stall.”

“Britain might not be able to compete with China and India on numbers, but we can compete, and win, on ideas and innovation. But that fight will be won only if our universities offer more relevant, high tech courses to the UK’s would-be aerospace engineers and scientists.”

The Government and the aerospace sector are to formally establish a strategic plan for long term growth by the end of 2012.