Systems supplier Parker Aerospace prides itself on the breadth of its capabilities. Chief executive Bob Barker tells Brendan Gallagher what the US group is doing to stay ahead of the multitude of technical challenges posed by its varied customer base.

Bob Barker

Q: You have acquired a number of small high-tech companies in recent years. What is your acquisition strategy, and what criteria do you apply when identifying businesses for acquisition?

A: We are always looking to fill any gaps that may become evident in our core systems offerings - flight-control, fuel and hydraulic systems. Anywhere we see a hole in the product offering, we'll try to fill it and so add market share.

Q: Are there any particular capabilities that you are keen to acquire in the next few years?

A: The industry seems to be moving away from traditional hydraulics and towards electromechanical actuation - that's an area we are focused on in terms of both development and potential acquisitions. Another has to do with making hydrostatic actuation electronics and motors capable of operating well in the high temperatures associated with this application.

Q: You supplied an actuation system for a recent NASA Mach 10 scramjet test flight. What are the benefits of being involved in advanced research programmes?

A: The best kind of R&D project is one in which you can work with your customer - that way you stay involved with the customer and know where he's going with his new technology. You can then direct your own R&D resources to fit the customer's needs instead of trying to do it in a vacuum.

Q: You developed the Falcon 7X hydraulic system. What was the main challenge on this programme - the system itself, or the need to fit in with Dassault's new computer-aided design technique?

A: The most significant challenge was the power-to-weight ratio. They wanted us to significantly reduce the system weight to the tune of about 40% compared with the average for an aircraft of that size.

We achieved it through a combination of architectural trade studies, optimisation of system and component requirements, simulation modelling and energy-management programs.

The Dassault Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) virtual design regime was certainly a challenge, but it turned out to be beneficial to everyone in the end. The ability to look at current on-aircraft configurations from remote sites saved a lot of money and proved to be a very good communications tool overall. Everyone spent some money and time and effort at the beginning, of course, but in the long run it paid off.

Q: You recently hosted a 787 "town hall" support meeting. How important is this programme to Parker Aerospace?

A: It's very important. Boeing is a big customer for our company, though we're in the business of servicing all the OEMs. At the anticipated delivery levels of up to ten 787s a month, and with all our direct and indirect contributions adding up to about $400,000-$500,000 per aircraft, we could earn as much as $60 million a year from the programme.

Q: You have a sizeable involvement in China's ARJ21 regional jet. How significant do you expect Chinese civil aircraft manufacturing to become in the longer term?

A: We expect China to be very significant. There's a huge population - 1.2 billion people - and they have plans to build a lot of airports over the next 10-15 years.

So there's going to be a significant amount of growth in the air travel industry in China, and we want to be a part of it.

But we also see it as a long-term investment, because it's going to take them some time to develop their industry to where the rest of the world is now. We want to be in at the beginning and then grow with the customer.

Q: You are also involved in the Russian Regional Jet. Do you see projects like this helping the Russians ultimately to re-establish themselves as mainstream civil aircraft manufacturers?

A: There are a lot of Western suppliers, including Boeing, involved on the aircraft, and I believe they are going to try to have it meet FAA standards. All that should really help them to get back into the industry. It certainly encouraged us to become involved.

Q: Nine months ago, Parker had high hopes of the VLJ market. Does this sector continue to shape up as expected?

A: Yes. We're encouraged to see Embraer, along with several of our customers, getting into that business. There are enough people in it to suggest that it's going to be a good thing. But I do have a couple of concerns. Will the air traffic system be able to cope when there are large numbers of these aircraft flying around? The operators intend to fly into smaller local airports with less traffic, but it remains to be shown that the FAA can handle all these aircraft in the air.

Second, the air-taxi companies want to be able to offer a point-to-point service for the same price as a first-class airline ticket. If they can do that, they should be very successful. But we don't know yet whether such pricing will be possible.

Q: Parker Aerospace is present in a wide variety of military and civil airframe and powerplant programmes. Which sectors are most important to you, and are you planning any changes of emphasis?

A: All the segments are important to us.

Our broad base enables us to spread our product over a number of different customers while holding costs down and giving us a technology presence in many different market segments.

We can see what's happening in each market and move technologies back and forth as opportunities present themselves.

We do see the VLJs as important, of course, as is the military unmanned aerial vehicle market.

But broadly we like to try to service all of the markets and to be in a position to go wherever our customers are going.

Source: Flight Daily News