The aerospace industry in Central England is riding a wave of success, with employment up 17% since 2005, while business turnover has grown a whopping 38% in the same period.

Statistics just released by the  show employment growing by 7-10% for the last three years and turnover consistently reaching close to double-digit figures. That is good news for a region that accounts for 20% and 25% of the total UK industry in terms of value and jobs respectively.

And there’s no sign of business tailing off, says MAA chief executive Dr Andrew Mair. “We think the numbers working in the aerospace industry will increase by around 5% per year for the next two to three years. Even Rolls-Royce in Derby has recorded a net increase in workforce despite the knock-on effect of delays in major programmes and recent reductions in office staff.

“This is only the beginning. There’s a lot of business from current programmes and we are doing very well.” Factories are full with Airbus A320/330 and Eurofighter Typhoon work – and that’s before the A380 and Boeing 787 programmes ramp up or Joint Strike Fighter has really got started.

“Industry is operating at close to capacity and expanding to be ready to take advantage of the many opportunities ahead,” says Dr Mair. Aerospace currently employs about 45,000 people in 700 companies across the Midlands. The numbers are growing as companies from related sectors such as automotive move into aerospace.

“Automotive firms have advantages in terms of delivery, performance and productivity,” says Dr Mair. Once certified to aerospace standards, they can make an impact.
One such firm is Advanced Composites Group in Derbyshire, which turned its expertise in lightweight materials for motorsports into a share of the £110 million ($220m) Airbus-led Next Generation Composite Wing (NGCW) project.

Midlands Aerospace Alliance 

Another is Cosworth of Northampton, which has a pedigree in high-performance Formula 1 engines. It has been selected by the US Navy to develop heavy fuel engine technology for the Ultra Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UE-UAV) programme.

Dr Mair attributes the Midlands’ success to its manufacturing heritage and tradition of advanced engineering excellence. “The fact that so many aerospace companies, including global brands, base themselves in the Midlands proves we have the innovation and experience these companies need to succeed.”

The MAA has championed innovation through the government-funded Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (ATEP). The programme, which has just launched its second call for projects supported by the regional agency Advantage West Midlands, has resulted in five technological developments with specific applications in aerospace:

  • Affordable diffusion bonding
  • Advanced heat transfer surface
  • Composite gear box housing
  • High temperature heat exchanger
  • Forging tools using nano-engineering

It is also a leading proponent of the Innovation Network (iNet) which is evolving under the auspices of the East Midlands Development Agency.
Dr Mair believes the industry has some way to go before current economic conditions will have an impact. “Most companies supplying them have five to seven years of production ahead of them. There could well be some cancellations, but that could reduce the backlog and bring the industry to a capacity it can manage better over the long term.”

Source: Flight International