Clean Sky, the largest-ever public-private research bid to develop green aviation technologies of the future, is at risk of foundering, with some of the largest names in European aerospace manufacturing growing frustrated at the red tape of Brussels bureaucracy.
The selection of industrial partners for the initiative's six technology areas was to have been made through a call for project proposals starting this quarter, with industrial activity beginning later this year. That is now not expected for months due to the legal wrangling.
The successful candidates would have been bidding for an initial €50 million ($63.2 million) worth of research contracts covering 93 technical areas within the €1.6 billion European Union joint technology initiative.
Industry sources have confided that some of the industrial primes taking part could cite breach of contract on the part of the European Commission, which is supervising the effort as it is subject - as are the primes - to legally binding contracts signed with industry last November. These supposedly finalised the contractual public-private partnership arrangements that had been negotiated since the February 2008 launch of Clean Sky.
Businesses leading the technology areas, which include sustainable and green engines, smart fixed-wing design and eco-design, have all allocated their Clean Sky contribution under their respective research and technology budgets and the fear is that these private sector champions could simply pull out.
"At the end of the day, these businesses operate within a competitive global marketplace and may judge that they could make swifter progress alone," says one Clean Sky industrialist.
The indefinite delays preventing progress within what has been hailed as a model joint technology initiative is thought to be caused by the speed of other EC directorates required to give guidance on procedure.
A senior source within the research directorate says: "The reason for the delay is that we are trying to ensure that there are correct and clear rules as to how the evaluation process will be carried out."