Eric Dautriat has just become executive director to head the Clean Sky joint technology initiative, a huge public/private research effort that could give Europe the edge in developing vital green aviation technologies. His entire professional career has been spent within the aerospace industry, most notably heading the development of the Ariane rocket family. He has served as launcher director for French space research centre, CNES and brings decades of experience to the post
The joint technology initiative is a new way of conducting large research programmes. What are the challenges of such an innovative public-private approach?
One of the main challenges is synthesising the two different cultures of, on the one hand, the European Commission - which will lead the public element - and on the other the private sector. These are sometimes quite far apart. The first goal of the Commission is spending money in a fair, transparent way and preserving the rights of the smaller partners, which must be treated on an equal basis. That's not always industry's imperative. My first task, however, will be to fulfil the targets, actions and schedule that the Commission has set, the goal being for the Clean Sky joint undertaking to reach autonomy by October.
How will the participants go about organising themselves to deliver the right technologies at the right time?
There will be two leaders, many of them industry primes, heading each of the integrated technology demonstrators (ITD). They have already started working with a network of associates, most if not all of which will be used to working in this co-operative way with major companies. Even so, there is a degree of decentralisation within each ITD that has to perform its own management task. Here, it will be important to implement the right set of management tools necessary for any complex organisation. I will be responsible for challenging each ITD to make sure they have fulfilled their management tasks in a correct and efficient way.
Can you underline the importance of the technology evaluator, which essentially assesses and selects the most promising technologies?
It is perhaps the first time such a complex evaluation tool has ever been developed to assess the different parameters linked to individual technologies. It is a key feature of Clean Sky and even if it proves difficult we need to develop the technology evaluator as we have to report to the public through the European Parliament to what extent and to what timescale and what degree of confidence the different environmental targets on carbon dioxide, NOx and noise will be reached. Some technologies will fail to deliver those targets so after independent assessment will be dropped.
How innovative will Clean Sky technologies really be?
All selected technologies must reach demonstration level under real flight conditions, with targets dates around 2013-14. Some have already been subject to a large degree of research activity, and their commercialisation would signify real steps forward, not merely incremental progress. Take the open rotor engine. Much has been spoken about it, but it is not yet invented. So it could represent a real technology breakthrough. The same applies to active wing control and the all-electric aircraft.
These have all been thought about, but the demonstrators will represent the acid test of real flight conditions. Clean Sky success will be demonstrated not at the end of the programme when the money is spent, but if and when those in-flight demonstrators become commercially compelling products that meet all our environmental targets.
Concern has been expressed by some that the initiative is at risk of foundering, with some of the largest names in European aerospace manufacturing growing frustrated at the red tape of Brussels bureaucracy.
I fully understand this frustration. It is a matter of fact that the achievement of Clean Sky will not only be to develop successful prototypes but to have developed them through demonstrators. That necessarily involved much discussion between the Commission and industry about the proper procedures for the various calls for proposals and how to make successful selection decisions, etc.
Clean Sky is often cited as the joint initiative on which similar public-private European initiatives will be modelled. How will excessive red tape be avoided and eliminated?
The current rules that have been accepted resemble the Commission's classic finance rules, although essentially Clean Sky will be a small team to guarantee flexible and proactive workflows. Secondly, these rules are not cast in iron. Provided the governing board approves and the Commission signs them off, I think we all acknowledge that after a period of experience it will be welcome or even necessary to come back to these rules and make some adjustments. We are pioneering a new way of conducting researching so it's not surprising we have experienced some delay. We are at the beginning of a learning curve and we will need to improve to perfect the process.
Industry says it needs to make the right decisions at the right time when working in the field of advanced research. How can you guarantee that the real-world commercial imperative is safeguarded and that membership of the JTI does not compromise speed to market?
Firstly, the six technology areas have not been invented by Clean Sky, nor by the Commission, but by the ITD leaders themselves who are the industrial primes, so the content finds its genesis within industry. Secondly, it is a seven-year programme so if there is an evolution - and there will be - we will have to ask whether the objectives of the programme are still being potentially fulfilled. For example, an industrial prime says it is no longer interested in the open rotor or the geared turbofan, but interested in developing technologies that are no longer linked to the environmental targets of the programme. At this point, Clean Sky will no longer be able to support them.
How will Clean Sky report and communicate its progress during the seven-year initiative?
While I will be obliged to report annually to the European Parliament, communication will be an essential task to explain and justify why this level of expenditure is necessary. We will need to detail real progress and the fulfilment of environmental targets.
Do you think Clean Sky will be vulnerable to increasing societal pressure to deliver the greening of civil air transport?
If there is societal pressure, I welcome it. It will make my job easier and convince politicians that funding the spending profile of a seven-year programme reflects the concerns of European citizens.