Clean Sky initiative still facing some major delays

 - June 4, 2009, 8:01 AM

Europe’s aerospace industry is blaming the European Commission for major delays in the Clean Sky joint technology initiative (JTI), a significant aerospace research program for greener aviation. The Commission retorts that it is just doing its job–spending taxpayer money diligently–and declines to accept sole responsibility for the delays.

JTIs are a new kind of public-private program for research in the European Union. “JTIs are new instruments for better integrated private-public partnerships,” said the European Commission spokeswoman for science and research. Clean Sky is a {1.6 billion ($2.1 billion) JTI, with the industry and the Commission sharing the cost equally.

Early last year it was expected that calls for subcontracting tenders would be issued by that summer, but so far none has been issued. Moreover, Clean Sky’s executive director, Eric Dautriat, was appointed only late in April, more than 14 months after the Clean Sky launch forum took place on February 5 last year.

In mid-April, during a meeting of the board at the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe (ASD), Airbus CEO Tom Enders complained that Clean Sky was mired in administrative difficulties. “Severe constraints are imposed by internal Commission regulations, which are ill adapted to this type of partnership and have continually delayed the effective start of the program,” said Enders. “I see the clear and present danger that the program will fail to produce the needed results on time, and that industry will very soon be obliged to redirect its funds toward other national or company technology initiatives.”

An industry lobbyist commented to AIN that Dautriat’s appointment is not
a signal that the process is finally accelerating. He insisted the Commission is responsible for the delay in releasing the promised research funds.

“Most of the delay is due to the fact that these initiatives are new instruments, which involves some time to get up to speed,” the EC spokeswoman explained
to AIN. For example, before launching calls for research proposals, the partners had to create a joint undertaking (JU).

Both the industry and the Commission have to agree on a way to align industry’s expectations with the Commission’s rules and procedures. “We are equal partners,” she said, insisting that delays are not caused solely by red tape. “Rather, they stem from the compromises that have to be reached to set up common playing rules,” she asserted, pointing out that public funding has to comply with stringent management rules.

Significant progress has been made since January last year, she said. For example, agreements that cover 75 percent of total funding have been signed with the industry, and the industry has started receiving these funds, she said.

She hoped the JU’s governing board would reach an agreement on calls for research proposals by the end of last month. These calls would then be issued “as soon as possible.” The goal would then be to sign the first contracts with the selected partners by the end of the year. The initiative involves, among others, airframers such as Dassault and ATR, helicopter makers Eurocopter and AgustaWestland and powerplant manufacturers Snecma and Rolls-Royce.