The air transport industry in Europe employs about 3.1 million people, and if air traffic doubles in 15 years as expected, the sector will contribute up to 13 percent of Europe’s gross domestic product. A thriving aerospace industry is therefore a key factor in the 25-nation European Union’s “Lisbon Strategy” to become the “most competitive economy in the world.”
This is why the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) was created, under the leadership of the past EU research commissioner Philippe Busquin, with the aim of developing and maintaining a strategic research agenda (SRA) for aeronautics in Europe. The agenda sets out a comprehensive and coherent set of technology needs, compiled by executives from across the aviation community (including aerospace firms, research centers, airlines and Eurocontrol) and provides guidelines for research programs for the next 20 years.
The main idea behind the program involves sustaining a leading competitive position for Europe in the world of aviation, while ensuring growth of the air transport industry. Based on goals set by the earlier “2020 Vision” report (published in 2001), it also addresses challenges such as ever-increasing air traffic, with its associated increase in noise, emissions, congestion and delays, as well as heightened security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Another ambitious target of ACARE is to increase safety fivefold while air travel more than doubles. The SRA finally sets the scene for future aeronautics research, guiding the planning of research under public, private, national and EU programs, and reinforcing the European Commission’s commitment to aeronautics and space under the EU’s research framework programs.
Two years after the first research agenda, ACARE launched the second edition (SRA-2) at the end of March. This second edition is much more comprehensive and detailed than its predecessor, laying out high-level target concepts to make the air transport system more customer-oriented, time- and cost-efficient, environmentally responsible and safe for its users. These concepts are then translated into relevant technologies to be developed, including new propulsion systems, fuels and intelligent structures that change an aircraft’s shape in flight.
A Budget To Build the ‘Europe of Knowledge’
As a result, ACARE believes that more funds are needed for some of the technologies that will require real breakthroughs. “The aeronautics sector continues to be one of Europe’s flagship research-and-development domains and it will continue to play an important role in the research framework program,” commented Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research. “But the EU is only one source of funding. Our main role is that of catalyst, providing tools for implementing the SRA-2, with the contribution of other stakeholders–universities, research institutions, national programs and industry.”
The European Commission has been supporting aeronautical research since 1998, with 300 projects funded so far. It recently unveiled its plans for the seventh framework program (FP7), which spans seven years (2007 to 2013) and involves a budget of €73 billion ($95 billion). This amounts to a doubling of the EU’s annual research spending to approximately €10 billion ($13 billion), compared to the previous framework program (FP6 for the years 2002-2006).
FP7’s structure will consist of four specific programs–cooperation, ideas, people and capacities–and nine themes. Research funds devoted to aeronautics activities come under the transport (€5.3 billion) and security and space (€3.5 billion) themes.
These amounts are greater than under previous programs but less than expected by the aerospace industry, which had asked for a 65-percent budget increase for a total of €170 billon ($221 billion). Nevertheless, Airbus executive vice president of engineering Alain Garcia has said that the industry is committed to matching this amount.
In addition, the new European Space Program is expected to start in 2007, in support of EU policies on such items as agriculture, fisheries, environment, telecommunications and transport. Activities in space research will focus on space-based applications such as satellite monitoring systems and support of the environment and security. Galileo-related research in the SRA’s transport theme and actions included in the EU’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Program complement the space research disciplines.
Security research plays a vital role in the Common Foreign and Security Policy. It will also contribute to technologies and capabilities in support of other EU policies in areas such as transport, civil protection, energy and environment. The research will focus on civil security applications, headed by EC vice president Günter Verheugen, who represents the Commission at the European Defense Agency Steering Board.