ADS manager for Northern Ireland Leslie Orr is passionate about helping member companies within the region's aerospace, defence and security industries to survive and thrive in the global downturn
How did you get your start in aviation?
As a 16-year-old school RAF Air Cadet, I remember being strapped into a glider at Lossiemouth air base in Scotland. Fear grew as the "bungee" rope attached to the front of the glider was stretched by the launch winch. As the tension in the rope was cracked up it was like that moment of trepidation at the start of a roller-coaster ride. Then the pilot released the tail hook and we launched. There was rush, g force and amazing wind noise, then we were up, the rope was released and as we glided there was silence, peace and the thrill of flight.
© ADS Northern Ireland
Orr (left) and colleagues launched ADS Northern Ireland at Farnborough
I also remember my first flight in an Embraer Tucano trainer. I recall the moment when repeating back to the pilot "I have control" and was amazed that the thing kept flying!
How did you get to where you are now?
I graduated from Queen's University Belfast with a first-class honours degree in engineering, then took up the post of manufacturing engineer at Hyster, where I gained great industrial experience. I progressed from there to complete a PhD in aerospace manufacturing based at Bombardier. Then I was attracted to Nortel, a global telecoms equipment supplier, where over a number of years I performed a variety of senior roles in their European supply chain centre. I also got involved in a number of industry representative boards in Northern Ireland. It was a very natural progression to take on the role of ADS Manager for Northern Ireland.
What does your job at ADS NI involve?
The aerospace, defence and security industry is a major contributor to the Northern Ireland economy, with more than 8,000 employees. Major firms like Bombardier, Thales, B/E Aerospace and RFD Beaufort have substantial operations in Northern Ireland and there is a very strong SME base of design and supply chain companies. The industry is supported by world-class research centres at Queen's University and the University of Ulster.
My role is to help grow the sector, to provide member value. This involves working closely with government and particularly Invest NI. It involves business development, delivering business events, international business leads and contacts. It involves bringing the sector together to help form clusters. It also involves promoting business improvement and quality excellence through programmes such as SC21 (Supply Chains for the 21st Century).
What are the big challenges?
There are many challenges facing the industry from the slowdown in the economy and government spending reviews. However, one trend affecting members is the consolidation of the supply base. The move to fewer suppliers to simplify and cut costs leads to small companies finding it difficult to engage big players. It is becoming more difficult for small companies to get in the door to win business. We are trying to help members face these challenges. Helping companies reach outside their current region is important and the ADS network of offices in Scotland, Farnborough, London, Toulouse and India are a great asset.
Another is the world-leading Farnborough air show. We want more local companies to benefit from participating and winning business at Farnborough. We launched ADS Northern Ireland there this year and we hope to return in two years time with a number of success stories.