European Clusters Find Cooperation Makes for Strong Competitors
European companies might still face a serious challenge to remain competitive in an increasingly global supply base, but the growing membership of the European Aerospace Cluster Partnership (EACP) has found that cooperation in keys areas such as building skills and research-and-development work can benefit them collectively more than if they battle with each other at every level. For instance, attendees of the EACP’s recent annual meeting in Bilbao, Spain, heard how new funding from the European Union’s Leonardo da Vinci program is helping schools across the continent teach skills required by aerospace firms locally through the European Skills Hub for Aerospace project. “There are greater skills shortages in some parts of Europe than in others, but overall if you look at the huge growth in the industry then there could be a wider shortage of people in the future and we have to do something about this,” said Walter Birkhan, managing director of Hamburg Aviation, which participates in the Niedersachsen Aviation cluster in Germany’s Lower Saxony region.
The largely small- and medium-sized companies that account for EACP’s membership also have found success collaborating to secure European Commission-funded research work. The Clean Aerospace Regions project, for example, encourages firms to invest in environmentally friendly technologies and production techniques. According to Birkhan, the EACP and its constituent clusters also have proved influential in improving the competitiveness of certain key aerospace supply chains and ensuring that, collectively, they enjoy strong connections with the larger OEMs. “The basis for helping each other to be more competitive is building trust, and this can be time-consuming,” Birkhan told AIN. “We get to know how our colleagues [from different countries] work by cooperating with them on projects like these.”
The EACP also has sought to engage and cooperate with potential new competitors outside Europe. For instance, its “internationalization” working group is forging connections with clusters in Russia and Asia. Under the European Union’s Seventh Framework research framework, the EACP promotes a project called Bridging East West Aerospace Research. At the same time, Western European aerospace clusters support the development of their counterparts in Eastern Europe.
France’s Aeriades Lorraine Aerospace Cluster and AerospaceCluster in the Rhone-Alps region are the two clusters to join the EACP most recently. “We have a lot of opportunities to cooperate, and Europe’s clusters are quite strong and well supported,” concluded Birkhan. “The approach we take is quite different from in the U.S.” In his view, the aerospace industry is more widely distributed throughout Europe than in the U.S.