x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

British invasion at Paris Air Show is led by brighter skies

This year, the 70 or so supply chain companies that will populate the British pavilion at Paris will arrive with a spring in their step.

A British Airways plane lands at Heathrow Airport on March 19, 2010 in London, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
A British Airways plane lands at Heathrow Airport on March 19, 2010 in London, Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Every second year, the British aerospace industry decamps en masse to Le Bourget airfield in the Parisian suburbs for the Paris Air Show.

This year, the 70 or so supply chain companies that will populate the British pavilion at Paris will arrive with a spring in their step.

For the United Kingdom's aerospace industry is fresh from announcing a £2 billion (Dh11.5bn) fund to create a UK Aerospace Technology Institute, to be funded by the industry and the government over the next seven years.

Aerospace is one of the UK economy's genuine manufacturing success stories. The industry is the largest in Europe and second only to the United States globally. Britain has a 17 per cent share of the world market. It employs about 290,000 people in 3,000 firms and contributes about £24bn to the economy.

Paul Everitt, the chief executive of the industry lobby group ADS, says shows such as Paris and its British counterpart Farnborough, which alternates with the French event, are vital.

"The increasingly global nature of the industry means that players are coming from all over the world to be there. British firms will see traditional clients like Boeing and Airbus but also the Chinese, Russian, South American and Canadian manufacturers will all be there."

"People definitely do business at these places and when you are looking to break into more challenging markets you need to establish a strong relationship with those customers," Mr Everitt says.

Despite what has happened in other parts of the British economy in the past four to five years, the civil aerospace sector has grown and that rate of growth is expected to continue and even increase.

There has also been some modest "reshoring" of activity into the UK, which has brought manufacturing back from other parts of the world.

"There is reason for optimism and there is no doubt that the relationship with the government and the funding for the Aerospace Technology Institute gives everyone a sense that there is a renewed level of support and understanding of the importance of the sector, for the long term," Mr Everitt says.

One of the highlights of Paris for the Brits will be the long-awaited sight of the Airbus A380 superjumbo in British Airways livery.

The airline takes delivery of its first A380s next month.

The UK unit of the French Airbus operation built the wings for the new jet and Britain's Rolls-Royce is the exclusive engine supplier.

The aerospace sector is set to expand as emerging economies demand air travel and developed economies replace ageing aircraft. The British low-cost airline easyJet is tipped to announce a major aircraft order at the Paris show.

The UK no longer makes entire passenger jets but UK companies such as Cobham, GKN and Meggitt are important component suppliers to Airbus and Boeing and Rolls-Royce is a leading manufacturer of jet engines to aircraft makers the world over.

Although Airbus's main UK operation at Broughton in Wales makes wings for the plane maker, recently the share of components made in Britain for the Airbus A350 wide-bodied jet has fallen.

"This was a bit of a wake-up call," says Mr Everitt. "It demonstrated that we could not afford to rest on our laurels and spurred everyone into making sure that we were making adequate investment for the next generation of aircraft."

The UK's position in the world is under threat from component makers in many countries, particularly since Chinese and Russian aircraft manufacturers are threatening to break Airbus and Boeing's duopoly and would need cheaper parts to do so.

The ATI will focus on British strengths in wing and engine-making and should open next March. British scientists and engineers are working on breakthrough technologies for the next generation of aeroplanes that will replace the workhorses, Airbus's A320 and Boeing's 737.

The British government will provide £150m of funding for the next seven years, to be matched by the industry. The fact that the British government has committed for so long a period is most significant, say industry leaders. It effectively creates an aerospace policy in a country that has long been criticised for not having any industrial policy.

The UK government says the ATI will allow industry and academic researchers to develop technology for the next generation of quieter, more energy efficient aircraft. It will secure in the UK the research and development activity necessary to win work on future aircraft programmes. It is estimated this will secure up to 115,000 high-value jobs in aerospace and its supply chain in the long term, the government says on its website.

"Aerospace experts with highly specialised skills are working hard to make sure the UK remains Europe's number one aerospace manufacturer," says the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

"We're doing all we can to maintain this jewel in our crown, which is why government is working hand in hand with industry to inject £2bn into a unique long-term strategy to maintain Britain's position as the centre of aerospace technology."

The business secretary, Vince Cable, who chairs an aerospace business leaders group, says the civil aircraft market is set to boom.

"Our aerospace sector already supports more than 3,000 companies and employs 230,000 people across the UK. The potential for growth is huge. By 2031 the civil aerospace market will be worth in excess of US$4.5 trillion," he says.

And that should be reason enough for the Brits in Paris to enjoy a little of their own joie de vivre.