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Air League – Raising Tempo In Future Aviation and Aerospace Debate By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.







As a long time influential champion of UK based aviation and aerospace growth and one that I consider to have been at the forefront of influencing public policy in the debate, the Air League chose to host a private debate in the House of Commons yesterday which had at its heart not only the need to consider various Brexit related issues that the UK aviation and aerospace industries are very concerned with but also what I sincerely hope will have been the first in a new and much needed series of debates intended to invigorate and lead future aviation and aerospace related public policy.

Along with other very worthy institutions such as the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Air League has a long and very successful tradition of supporting the UK aviation community in Parliament through the hosting of receptions, debates and by producing policy papers that not only articulate concerns of members but that also emphasise the importance of investing in advanced technologies and crucial industry skills considered vital to the economic success of the UK.

With Brexit negotiations now reaching a crucial stage and with uncertainty and lack of clarity being the greatest concerns of those to whom leaving the European Union impacts on most, it is of necessity that influential bodies and organisations such as the Air League step up to the plate by raising the tenure of debate in order to ensure that the UK aviation and aerospace industries can continue to prosper when we find ourselves outside of the European Union.

I have long regarded the primary missions of the Air League being to generate national understanding of the importance to the UK of aviation and aerospace and to excite young people’s interest in these areas by helping them to become involved. The Air League can be very proud of what it has achieved and I was myself honoured to have received a Lifetime Advocacy award from its president, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, in 2016.

Not surprisingly, the upcoming 2018 Farnborough International Airshow which is the primary bi-annual showcase for aviation and commercial aerospace presents a very great opportunity for the Air League to raise the debate on the future of aviation and to that end, sponsored by Airbus and Lockheed Martin and chaired by House of Commons Defence Select Committee chairman, Dr. Julian Lewis MP, an audience comprising members of the House of Commons and House of Lords together with invited guests discussed a range of issues with a panel of invited experts of what needs to be done to ensure the UK can remain a global leader in aviation and aerospace post Brexit.

As a prelude to this years’ Farnborough International Airshow and with Brexit concerns causing considerable doubts in the minds of those engaged across the spectrum of aviation related sectors this important and very well attended debate was certainly timely.

Chairman of the Air League, John Steel QC, opened the debate by expressing a wide range of comments in relation to the need for industry to develop a more constructive dialogue with Parliament, Air League policy positions in relation to Leading Edge technologies and STEM investment and the need for clarity by all parties in the debate.

Mark Phillips, Head of Government Affairs at Lockheed Martin UK, emphasised on what we already have achieved and not surprisingly used the brilliant example of international industrial collaboration in the form of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and also of the opportunities this aircraft build programme and follow on maintenance requirement will provide for the UK defence industrial base over the next thirty years or more. He told us that for every one pound that the UK has invested on the F-35 programme it receives three pounds back from what it delivers from the 15% share that it has in the aircraft manufacturing programme.

Jeremy Greaves, VP Strategy and Corporate Affairs, Airbus stressed the need for clarity and reminded of the importance of what Airbus does here in the UK. He talked of Airbus having a forward order book of 7,000 aircraft and provided an interesting update of various Airbus commercial aircraft programmes including the 50.1% share the company had acquired in the Bombardier ‘C’ Series aircraft for which the wings are made in Belfast, he reminded of the industry’s great strength that is very visible within Airbus civil aviation market forecasts and he went on to talk about some of the already well-aired Brexit issues, particularly those relating to big problem areas for Airbus such as customs and certification issues. Finally, having talked about how Airbus has invested heavily in apprentice and graduate training schemes over the years in order to manage its skills requirement, he mentioning the uncertainty regarding the Galileo space communications partnership that has up to now included the UK he went onto talk about other fascinating new programmes such as Zephyr.

Chief Strategy Officer of the Aerospace Technology Institute provided some interesting detail of key ATI research and development programmes and emphasised key imperatives for UK competitiveness. Apart from highlighting the importance of the UK being the centre of excellence for wing technology he talked about the future in the form of propulsions systems, high value design products as well as the key components of productivity and competiveness, skills and the need for the UK to be a lead manufacturer.

Paul Everitt, CEO of the UK trade association ADS talked mainly about the upcoming Farnborough International Airshow and mentioned some of the highlights of the seven day event. He did however emphasise the work of trade association in warning and advising the government in relation to industry requirements post Brexit and the need to drive investment and innovation.

Formed in 1909 by a group of those engaged in aviation and who were concerned that Britain was perhaps falling behind in the development of aviation capability, one of the most important aspects of the Air League work over its one hundred and nine years history to me personally is that it was the Air League that was responsible in 1938 for founding the Air Defence Cadet Corps which would later become the Air Training Corps.

The good work has never stopped and over the past decade alone the Air League has allocated scholarships worth £2 million to young people that are considered to have a flair and passion for aviation combined with a determination to succeed. Students helped by the Air League come from across all parts of the UK and many are disabled.

In association with Boeing, the Air League has been responsible over many years for providing students who may well be Disabled Veterans with scholarship awards that could include 12 hours of free flying that go toward their achieving their Private Pilot Licence. The Air League has also provided a great many bursaries, gliding scholarships and engineering experience opportunities, the latter facilitating students spending time with leading engineering companies and also, Space Scholarships in which students are able to spend one week at a summer school and also provided with opportunities to explore internships.

As said, the Air League’s primary mission today remains as it always has been, to generate national understanding of the importance to the UK of aviation and aerospace and also to excite young people’s interest in these areas by helping them to become involved. Not surprisingly, the upcoming 2018 Farnborough International Airshow which is the primary bi-annual showcase for aviation and commercial aerospace is a great opportunity to raise the debate on the future of aviation.

As a prelude to the Farnborough International Airshow and with Brexit concerns now causing considerable doubt in the minds of those that are fully engaged in the future UK aerospace/ aviation environment the future, yesterday’s debate was very timely. I very much look forward to the next.

CHW (London – 4th July 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon




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