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EU's Clean Sky project looks to SMEs for research

One of Clean Sky's aims is to increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprises involved in the aviation industry, and so more than one-third of the topics - which are meant to contribute to the elaboration of the demonstrators - were won by SMEs.

"It has been beyond my expectations so far," says Clean Sky chief executive Eric Dautriat. Many of these SMEs are newcomers to the field of European research, and Dautriat adds: "These results show the ability of this Joint Technology Initiative to widen the basis of research and innovation. For SMEs, it can be a kind of stepping stone, allowing them to gain exposure to the European research framework."

One SME that has grabbed the opportunity to expand its reach in the sector is Cenaero, a Brussels-based research company that works on advanced simulation techniques. Its general manager, Michel Delanaye, says: "The interesting thing for us is the fact that we can expose our technology to companies and research centres that we would otherwise not be working with. It gives us access to new customers, broadens our network, and gives us the opportunity to offer our technology to major aerospace companies. It is a very good opportunity for networking and business development. It will help our business outside Clean Sky."

The process is relatively straightforward to get involved in, but is very competitive, he adds. "It is good because the major players get to work with new partners. I am sure they would like to work with their usual suppliers, but I think Clean Sky would lack something if that was the case. The European Commission is putting half the money in, so they have to demand some openness."

But Delanaye warns of the danger to the industry of focusing only on existing technologies rather than on future developments. "There is less money available for funding upstream research that will pay off in the future because so much money is going into Clean Sky," he says. "There is a danger that less progress is made in new developments in aerospace. It could injure the European industry's long-term competitiveness."

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