SBAC enters Farnborough with a renewed sense of focus

 - November 16, 2006, 4:55 AM

The Society of British Aerospace Companies has sharpened its priorities and its structures since the last Farnborough show in 2004. Soon after that event, the London-based group published the findings of a long-awaited strategic review, prompted by a UK government Aerospace Innovation and Growth Team (AIGT) report. The SBAC review called for more effective links with the UK’s regions, a higher level of activity in Europe and the U.S., and greater attention to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The SBAC says it now is more focused on its key markets: namely, air transport, aerospace/defense, homeland security and space. It has established specialist boards to provide leadership in each of these markets, replacing a complex web of 150 committees that the strategic review found incomprehensible.

Working in tandem with the “market boards” are five “operational boards” covering market development, communications, engineering and development, enterprise excellence (productivity), sustainable aviation, and skills and people management.

The chairs of these various boards meet regularly to coordinate the work they do with SBAC member companies. A leadership council under the auspices of BAE Systems chief executive Mike Turner and Department of Trade and Industry minister Alun Michael oversees these structures.

Another important change is that the SBAC has a more vibrant working relationship with the UK government’s regional development agencies (RDAs), which are important sources of funding and support for industry.

Through an agreement with the Department of Trade and Industry, the RDA for the southwest of England is the lead agency for aerospace matters–a move intended to avoid miscommunication and duplicated effort around the country.

The society has established SBAC Scotland, with headquarters in Edinburgh to allow closer contact with Scottish aerospace firms and with Scotland’s devolved government.

In response to the national aerospace technology strategy developed by the AIGT, industry, government agencies and academics are supposed to be more closely coordinating research and development efforts.

More than a dozen aerospace innovation networks and aerospace technology validation programs have been established to help technology advances come to fruition. Companies can join these networks and programs to share in their banks of scientific research on specific topics, such as materials.

The validation programs, which get DTI funding, take basic science and demonstrate how it could fit into future aerospace and defense systems. Advances with environmentally friendly aero engines and more electric aircraft are examples of fields that have benefited from this approach, according to the SBAC.

The SBAC’s people management board has established networks of firms to develop best practice in recruiting and training skilled employees. In partnership with the UK’s Science and Engineering Manufacturers Technology Alliance, the board has provided guidance on the structure and content of aerospace educational programs.

Last year the UK government published a new Defence Industrial Strategy and the SBAC claims to have pushed the inclusion of key points on the need to make more research and development funding available to industry and to coordinate these efforts more effectively with partner companies.

Some observers have complained that the DIS does no more than parrot previous political platitudes on the state of the UK industry in relation to its foreign competitors and fails to take into account the pressures for British firms to move R&D and production overseas.

But the SBAC insists that the Blair government is taking the situation seriously. “The Ministry of Defence does recognize the shortage [of R&D funds] and the government is aware of the risk that this entails,” said SBAC communications director Paul Everitt.