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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

26 Feb 14. Press reports today that Minister of State for Business and Enterprise Michael Fallon has now agreed a £58.2 million funding package shared with industry to cover seven large UK based aerospace research projects could not be better timed.

The commercial aerospace industry is doing phenomenally well and looks set in my view for a further and probably very long period of further success. Airbus and Boeing may not see eye to eye on everything but one thing that they both agree is that the number of commercial aircraft flying today is likely to double over the next twenty years. A growth industry then but one that in the UK is not without challenge such as skills retention and the need to bring more qualified engineers into the system. Competition for the good people and the best qualified engineers is enormous and we also need to recognise that unless we research and invest in new technology and ideas we risk being left behind by others.
Not only does the prospect of continued growth in the commercial aerospace industry present great opportunities for UK and for the brilliant companies who are at the forefront of the aerospace industry but it requires acceptance by all parties involved including government that if we want to stay out in front we would need to create new technology and ideas and importantly, to invest in our own future to ensure that our industry will remain at the top of its game and see off competition that would love to take away the advantages we have built in our centres of aerospace manufacturing excellence. It is concerns such as these that led to the creation of the Aerospace Growth Partnership and through this, the Aerospace Technology Institute. These are partnerships between government and industry in the real sense of the word and that are from the very outset designed and determined to succeed in the various mission objectives set.

Administered through the Aerospace Technology Institute, itself the result of separate Government initiative and that was born out of work that followed the creation of the Aerospace Growth Partnership through 2012, the planned research based funding to be formally announced by Mr. Fallon will be centred on aerodynamics, engine, aerostructures and advanced systems such as unmanned aircraft.

Britain has a long and very successful history in the aerospace industry and remains the centre of excellence for European involvement in wing, engine, aerostructures, composite and landing gear technology. Airbus, as the largest European commercial aircraft manufacturer, is very highly invested in the UK aerospace industry both in North Wales where it manufacturers the wing-sets for all Airbus planes and for a variety of other activities at Bristol. Airbus is also highly invested in the UK supporting its end customers such as the Royal Air Force at RAF Brize Norton. So too is Rolls-Royce which manufactures commercial engines for both Airbus and Boeing planes, plus other large companies such as GKN and Messier-Bugatti-Dowty together with a very large number and mix of small and medium sized enterprises.

Unlike the UK volume car industry that for the most part merely assembles cars here in the UK using imported parts the UK commercial aerospace industry has managed to retain a large, efficient and very well invested supply chain. This is a very significant reason for our continued success but it is no reason for us to stand on our laurels. To stay ahead we need to continually invest not just in plant and machinery but also in people to ensure we retain the right level of skills and in new product and technology to ensure that we can stay out in front.

The commercial aerospace industry is and will remain hugely important to the UK in terms of jobs and overall economic benefit. But the bottom line is that it will only remain so if we con

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