Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

EUROPE'S AEROSPACE industry signaled a new sense of urgency in its long-term efforts to restructure, as politicians and corporate heads gathered in London for the launch of the Association of Aerospace Industries (EAAI) on 29 September.

The EAAI, essentially a replacement for the old Association Europeenne des Constructeurs de Materiel Aerospatial (AECMA), but with a full-time staff and double the budget, set out on its new career with an ambitious agenda, largely aimed at putting Europe on the same footing as its US competitors in terms of funding, political influence and greater cohesion.

The EAAI's first secretary-general Peter Fichtmuller pledges to fight the industry's corner at the European Commission (EC) over "woefully inadequate" levels of research funding.

Even after receiving extra cash under the EC's fourth framework on research funding, he points out that the industry will be receiving only around ECU100 million ($75 million) annually to 1998.

The collective public spend on civil-aerospace research across Europe is calculated at around ECU400 million, but the industry calculates that this is less than one-quarter of the funding received by US companies from their Government.

Fichtmuller acknowledges that there is some "small progress" in coordinating the region's notoriously fragmented research effort, with the establishment of an aeronautics task force. This is one of only five task forces set up, under the fourth framework as a joint initiative across the EC's research, industry and transport departments.

Manfred Bischoff, chairman of Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) and EAAI president, calls for a wholesale reorganisation of national research institutions to avoid duplication of effort.

He adds that a similar shake-up needs to take place throughout the industry at European level. "We need to create competitive centres of competence in order to eliminate redundant capacities," he says. More radically, he also calls for a move from single-programme collaborations, to "more permanent" European structures.

The messages are not new, but appear to be delivered with a little more urgency. Besides the pressure being exerted by US competitors and the parlous state of many corporate balance sheets, Europe's politicians are demanding action on consolidation in return for scarce funding.

"Money is available, but I'm not prepared to see additional public money spent to conserve the existing structures. I see the only justification for more money is by arguing that it will go to create new European structures." says Norbert Lammert, a state secretary within the Bundestag, and German Government coordinator for aerospace.

Lammert is scathing about the "remarkable" lack of progress being made, despite all the talk of restructuring. "It's not enough to draft resolutions calling for a common European approach: we need to have it now, and not in the next century," he says.

UK deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, a political ally of the aerospace industry, had already said as much in his opening address to the EAAI launch.

The French minister of defence, Charles Millon, has since added his voice to the debate, calling for new ways of managing collaborative defence programmes.

"Common programmes should be given a recognisable chief, with the other partners acting as subcontractors," he says, also suggesting that "certain national specialisations" should now be recognised within Europe.

Millon also calls for the creation of a European armaments agency, with the first building block being the existing agency formed by France and Germany.

Whether the words turn into action this time remains to be seen, but as Fichtmuller says, the industry has at least "...recognised the necessity to achieve a European structure or to vanish".

Source: Flight International