Julian Moxon/BRUSSELS

The European Commission is considering a new approach to aeronautics research in Europe aimed at streamlining the acquisition of technologies and improving co-ordination of research activity.

Herbert Allgeier, chairman of the aeronautics task force at the EC's DG12 research directorate, says the idea is to create what he describes as a "virtual NASA", in which the work being done by national research bodies is managed by a small group of specialists located centrally. This would be part of a "policy think-tank" around which various European research institutions would organise themselves.

Allgeier says the group could consist of "five or six permanent staff and the same number of outside specialists rotating every 12 months or so". Initially, it would serve only to "push people in the right direction", limit duplication and ensure resources were used efficiently.

Later, says Allgeier, once the group had established the "moral authority" to manage European research, it would progressively introduce guidelines on what research should be carried out.

One of its tasks, he says, would be to prepare an inventory of available technologies crucial for maintaining competitiveness, produce a road map showing how those capabilities could be matured and provide a mechanism for ensuring research efforts were kept up to date.

The scheme, yet to be approved, comes as the EC prepares to issue a call for proposals for research projects to be funded under its latest aeronautics research budget. The European Union council of ministers is expected to approve a budget of ECU 700 million ($600 million) under the 1999-2002 Fifth Framework spending plan - almost double that of the previous budget.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate the work of the task force and focus European research," says Allgeier. He adds that the restructuring of the European aerospace and defence industries also points to the need for an "elegant change of theme" on the way European aerospace research is managed.

For the first time, aerospace research will be counted as a "key action", directing research money at clearly defined, product-oriented programmes. A working paper entitled New Perspectives for Aeronautics, presented to the European industry recently, suggests that the work should be aimed at "helping the [European] Community consolidate its position by developing its mastery, in an environmentally friendly manner, of the most advanced aeronautical technologies".

Source: Flight International