26 Mar 2012 - By
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Is Osborne’s £60m aerospace centre enough to maintain Britain’s competitive edge?

Many in the British aerospace sector cheered when Chancellor George Osborne announced the creation of a world-class UK Centre for Aerodynamics, but will this new hub be enough to drive the industry forward in an increasingly competitive global market?

The Chancellor has dedicated £60 million towards developing a new aerospace centre across several sites in Britain as part of his Budget for 2012.

The UK Centre for Aerodynamics will facilitate virtual and practical aerodynamics research, testing and design work, supported by a cash injection of £50 million in resource funding for delivering research.

The centre’s research is a positive step toward de-risking radical new concepts in wing design and helping to deliver sustainable aviation by supporting the development of new technologies and more environmentally friendly aircraft.

This initiative is the first output from the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) work, which identified how such a centre could increase UK competitiveness. The AGP is jointly chaired by Mark Prisk MP, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, and Marcus Bryson, Chair of ADS’s Civil Air Transport Board and CEO of GKN Aerospace.

Graham Chisnall, Deputy CEO of ADS, said: “Future market predictions suggest that the aerospace market could be worth £352 billion for the UK between now and 2029 if it maintains its 17 per cent market share. With the announced investment, aerospace will contribute even more effectively to the Government’s Growth agenda, by increasing its current £23 billion contribution to the UK economy.”

It is clear that the UK aerospace industry has great potential, but is the Chancellor’s new move enough to keep the UK competitive in the global market?

SMEs are at the heart of the success of the British aerospace industry and Government support for their development is vital.

Mark Ridgway, Managing Director at Wakefield-based Group Rhodes and a private sector board member on Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, told the Yorkshire Post newspaper that the investment in the advanced manufacturing supply chain was welcome news for small businesses.

“The only way we can compete internationally as a company is by innovation and by developing products. Any investment by the Government in this area of improving aerospace technology and supporting the sector, which is the second largest sector in the world, only second to the US, has to be welcomed,” he told the paper.

While most are agreed the new UK Centre for Aerodynamics is an important and encouraging step towards future technological sustainability and securing the UK’s position in overseas markets, some still feel the Government is not investing enough when it comes to aerospace and science.

The Chancellor has also announced £100 million in funding to boost university research in the UK through private sector involvement.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said the funds were welcome but no more than ‘green shoots’.

Sir Paul said: “In the UK, the Government and industry still invest a smaller percentage of our GDP in research and development than our competitor economies.”

“And while that remains the case, we will not fulfil the Chancellor’s goal of making the UK into Europe’s technology centre.

“If we want science to improve our situation, we must think bigger than our competitors in investing in the full range of science and innovation from discovery, through development and on to application.”

Imran Khan, the director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said the funding demonstrated that the Government understood the need for investment in research but that reversing cuts was not enough.

He said: “We need to be far more ambitious if we’re serious about having a high-tech future.”

The Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, Wendy Piatt, said we should not forget that our international competitors are injecting vast amounts of cash into their universities, and our leading universities are already under-resourced in comparison.

George Osborne’s Budget for 2012 offers clear signs that the Government is beginning to take aerospace seriously once more after the previous dramatic cuts to the sector’s capital expenditure. but this should not be where such investments end.

The Government’s measures need to be more than gestures; they must become the stepping stone towards the real future development and growth of the UK as a world aerospace leader.