Hamburg may be best known in aviation circles for having one of Airbus’s two European final assembly lines but the region around the Finkenwerder plant is also home to the third biggest aerospace cluster in the world after Seattle and Toulouse, with 40,000 employees (counting Airbus) and some 300 suppliers, service providers, research establishments and engineering and design houses. Focused largely on the European airframer, but also on Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer, they range from Zodiac, Lufthansa Technik and Diehl Aerosystems to small family concerns.

The emphasis is very much on the civil market – most of Germany’s defence industry is based in the south – and particularly on cabins. As well as being the flag-carrier’s in-house maintenance, repair and overhaul arm, local firm Lufthansa Technik has built a reputation as one of the world’s foremost third-party interiors and business aircraft completion specialists, while Diehl’s Hamburg facilities – a business the company acquired in 2011 – specialise in toilets and galleys. French-owned Zodiac Cabin Controls also has a major presence in the region.

Linking them all is Hamburg Aviation, a public-private cluster association founded in 2011 and backed by the city’s biggest companies, local government and universities. The organisation’s aim is to facilitate closer working relationships between members and to promote the city region’s capabilities. “We integrate the SMEs, larger companies, universities and public bodies. We solve issues no one can solve by themselves,” explains Lukas Kirchner, Hamburg Aviation’s head of marketing, PR and events.

One of Hamburg Aviation’s most visible initiatives has been the Crystal Cabin Awards, the 10th edition of which was held at April’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. Although the categories are open to companies worldwide and judging is scrupulously independent, they help raise the profile of the cluster during the show, says Kirchner. Judges narrow down dozens of entries to shortlists of three in eight categories before choosing winners. “Each year, the reception is incredible, with great media coverage,” he says.

Another major coup for the city and the cluster has been the opening of the ZAL TechCenter in Finkenwerder this year. Described by Hamburg Aviation as the “world’s most up-to-date civilian research facility”, the establishment will eventually host up to 600 researchers in fields such as fuel cells, cabin technology, 3D printing, acoustics and virtual reality. The project represents an investment of €100 million ($114 million) and is backed by, among others, the City of Hamburg, Airbus, Lufthansa Technik, German state aerospace body DLR and four universities.

“Major corporations such as Airbus, suppliers like Diehl, universities and institutions like DLR will be working together for the first time in the TechCenter, making innovations market-ready more quickly,” says Hamburg Aviation, which traces its roots to a decision in 2001 to set up an informal Hamburg “joint initiative”. That followed Airbus’s choice of Finkenwerder as one of its engineering and assembly hubs for the A380, a decision that gave a considerable boost to the growing supply chain in the city region.

The rapid ramp-up of Airbus narrowbody and A350 production over the next few years will benefit the cluster considerably, although like suppliers everywhere, meeting demanding schedules will be a challenge. But Hamburg Aviation believes training, innovation and co-operation between stakeholders – with programmes ranging from apprentices giving talks at high schools to helping put together bids for European research funding – are key to ensuring the cluster’s future success. “We believe what we are doing is absolutely unique in aerospace,” says Kirchner.

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Source: Flight International