Though the Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a “body blow” to the aerospace industry, it will come back better and stronger thanks to companies' innovative spirit, High Value Manufacturing Catapult CEO Dick Elsy said during a Tuesday FIA Connect webinar, “Innovations in Response to Covid-19.”
As proof of the industry’s flexibility, Elsy pointed to the “ventilator challenge” in the UK this spring. “In mid-March, the government saw a need for 20,000 ventilators to treat Covid patients, but had only 1,000 on hand,” he said.
Thus, the government tasked non-medical industries to help source parts for and build more ventilators. The aerospace industry rose to the challenge, supplying parts for and assembling more than 13,400 ventilators in just 12 weeks, despite its lack of expertise in the medical field.
“Aerospace moved into a completely new area in a very short time and showed its adaptability to work across industries,” Elsy explained. “We also had incredible supply chain support for the effort. Overall, the industry has incredible strength, and coming out of the Covid crisis is just another challenge. We’ve seen the spirit of the aerospace industry and just need to redirect it to the current situation.”
Aerospace Technology Institute CEO Gary Elliott agreed, adding that several "disruptors" coming to the industry will require such innovation, including urban air mobility/air taxi, sustainable regional aircraft, sustainable alternative fuels (SAF), new propulsion systems, and connectivity.
Elsy also added electrification, an area where he said the aerospace industry has an opportunity to cooperate with the automotive sector, which took the lead in the field and has already set battery technology standards. “Electrification is a good place to cooperate—there is a lot of common ground, and aerospace plus auto is a terrific value add,” he said.
But UK government funding for aerospace research to produce such innovation is a huge concern to both. “Nations compete for aerospace,” noted Elliott. “So the UK government needs to lean-in hard on how we fund the industry, particularly funding intensity.”
Every £1 invested by government into aerospace research spawns £12 of investment from the private sector, according to Elliott. “We must take a bold approach to funding aerospace research.” He added that the UK’s Jet Zero initiative to field zero-emissions aircraft by 250 is a bold national program that requires equally bold funding from the government.
Elsy echoed these thoughts. “The government needs to keep its foot flat on the accelerator when it comes to aerospace funding,” he said.
While the Covid-19 crisis is certainly a challenging time for the industry, Elliott and Elsy maintain that it also has presented an opportunity. “Aerospace will come back, and innovation will help us meet these challenges and new opportunities,” concluded Elsy. “A team of diverse people can achieve almost anything.”