Mountain of expertise in France’s Aerospace Valley

 - December 12, 2006, 1:36 PM

French regions Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées have formed an organization called the “Aerospace Valley” to bid for government-endorsed “competitiveness area” status in the fields of aerospace and on-board systems. The French government is expected to name 10 to 20 such areas in mid-July, giving participants a certain status that will lead to industry recognition and access to new financial backing.

In southwestern France, the Aerospace Valley (Hall 4 Stand G13-H13) includes a large part of the country’s aeronautics and space industry–accounting for no fewer than 100,000 jobs. In its bid, the group says that it could create 40,000 to 45,000 more aerospace jobs over the next 20 years.

Some 105 candidates are competing for the status, which is defined by the government as “companies, training centers and research laboratories” linked via “partnerships, research-and-development projects and international exposure.” The government had not yet completely defined the final number of selected areas and the amount of the allotted funds. Nor has it yet specified additional tax incentives it will add to the prizes. The basic prize for a selected candidate is ?750 million ($922.5 million), spread over a three-year period.

When launching the call for “competitiveness area” tenders last fall, the French government insisted on a long-term perspective. The concept is supposed to help the most competitive regions reach a critical mass in their aerospace activities. Selection of successful candidates will be based on criteria such as the criticality of the technology they offer to the industry, market considerations and the ability of industrial and research players to marshal necessary resources.

The Aquitaine/Midi-Pyrénées regions’ bid consists of 1,500 pages, or 50 folders. “Thirty-six folders describe ongoing research projects, worth several hundred-million euros,” project leader Jean-Marc Thomas, CEO of Airbus France, told Aviation International News. Others describe “structural projects” focusing on the geographic balance of resources, the economy, higher education and research.

As examples, Thomas described three proposed structural projects. In Bordeaux, a 200-person research laboratory for information technology will be built using the existing Inria facility as a base. In Tarbes, an aircraft dismantling center will be set up, under the leadership of EADS Sogerma and Suez Environnement.

In the Toulouse area at Montaudran, a convention center would be built on the property of a recently closed airfield. The center will be situated next to the soon-to-be-relocated ENSICA aerospace graduate engineer school, with several laboratories employing 1,000 researchers. The Montaudran location is very close to that of other schools, laboratories and universities in the region. “All this will form the largest aerospace campus in Europe,” Thomas asserted.

Some of the structural projects proposed by the Aerospace Valley committee, jointly led by Thomas and Thales Avionics’ Pierre-Eric Pommellet, cover “higher education and research” activities. These will also involve the creation of a doctoral program that will be common to universities and schools.