Research & Innovation is Key to Growth and Competitiveness of the Aeronautics Sector

  • September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016 – The European Parliament’s Sky and Space Intergroup (SSI) today debated with representatives of the European aerospace manufacturers on the links between research, innovation and the competitiveness of Europe’s aeronautics sectors.

Monika Hohlmeier, MEP and President of the Sky and Space Intergroup, opened the discussion by reminding attendees about the defining characteristics of the sector: “fierce competition, highly qualified jobs, resource-intensive commitment to Research and Innovation”. She added: “Non-EU states are also strengthening their efforts to compete, we therefore have to believe in our power to innovate and build a framework that is suitable for the future of the sector”.

Stéphane Cueille, Safran’s Senior Executive Vice President for R&T and Innovation, highlighted how the European aeronautics industry and its three pillars, namely airframers, engine manufacturers and equipment/systems manufacturers, have successfully built upon numerous European projects, especially the CleanSky flagship programme. However, “we must sustain this strong technological drive, for which consistency in public funding in the form of grants is key, especially considering our very long development lead-times” he said. With growing competition that includes non-European newcomers, a strong political will from European authorities must be the cornerstone of European research.

In Airbus, says Marc Hamy, Vice President of the Air Transport and Public Affairs department, innovation is the “lifeblood” of the group, enabled by continuous research on game-changing advanced materials, systems and structures. However, upcoming challenges make it necessary for Europe to sustain its commitment to collaborative R&T industrial projects, for example by providing grants that are competitive on a global scale. Indeed, as mentioned by MEP Christian Ehler, the Brexit also brings its share of uncertainties and will trigger some further discussions on research and innovation frameworks.

Innovation does not only concern the aircraft, but crucially also the Air Traffic Management (ATM). Mr Ramon Tàrrech Masdeu, Indra’s UK Director, presented how optimised ATM technologies improve the efficiency and safety of flights, reducing fuel burn and increasing traffic capacity. He also called on European policy makers to continue their efforts in this sector through the successful SESAR programme, especially in view of new challenges such as cybersecurity or the integration of drones in the airspace.

Commitment to research is very strong in the rotorcraft sector of the aeronautics industry. According to Lorenzo Fiori, responsible for Strategy and New Initiatives in Leonardo’s Helicopters Division, Europe’s unmanned aircraft including remotely piloted rotorcrafts are “the next frontier of aerospace innovation”. While European aeronautics companies can lead this new product development, they are closely followed by global competitors: research programmes are needed more than ever, especially in regards to key technologies enabling flight safety.

The Commission is very much aware of the critical importance of innovation to prepare the future panorama of aeronautics ensured Mr Filip Cornelis, Acting Director for Aviation in DG MOVE. “We are convinced that we have made the right choice by investing in SESAR and its industrial partnership, however we shall not rest on our laurels: we need to seize every opportunity to remain ahead and keep our leading position in the world”.

By way of conclusion, Monika Hohlmeier, thanked the participants for a rich debate, and emphasised the European Parliament’s strong commitment towards innovation and research in Europe.