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Seville aims for top European aerospace billing


 The southern Spanish city is not letting the A400M crisis derail its plans to establish itself as a major European aerospace centre

If delays to the A400M have struck a blow to Seville's ambitions to be one of Europe's leading aerospace cities, you would never guess it from the buzz of activity at Aeropolis. The rapidly filling aerospace industrial park at the airport, near the new final assembly plant for the military airlifter, is home to about 20 small and medium-size enterprises and a handful of bigger players.

The A400M facility is tantalisingly off limits as engineers from Airbus Military and its suppliers work around the clock to get the aircraft airborne. But at the 580,000m2 (6.2 million ft2) Aeropolis, company managers are keen to show off modern premises and production lines, filling orders not just for local primes EADS and Airbus, but Bombardier and Embraer too.

Opened in 2004, Aeropolis is the result of a drive by the Seville city authorities and Andalusian regional government to create a thriving supplier cluster to Airbus and EADS's military business, and customers further afield, that recognises the trend for airframers to outsource increasing amounts of engineering and production to a global supply base.

Aeropolis's tree-lined avenues, ample car parking and purpose-built units have swayed many local SMEs to relocate from older facilities in the city. The park has also attracted tenants from the rest of Spain - such as Basque aerostructures group Aernnova - and one foreign-owned company, Metal Improvement, owned by the USA's Curtiss-Wright.

Inespasa is a typical tenant. The engineering and design specialist moved to Aeropolis in 2006. Part of the Aerojoint consortium, it employs 15 engineers and carries out the majority of its work for EADS, designing subassemblies such as Airbus doors. Another recent migrant from Seville, SK3000, is owned by Basque-based Alcor and its output includes the fuselage section 18 of the Airbus A320, cockpits for the Casa CN-235 and C-295 and winglets for the Embraer 190 and 195.

Bilbao-headquartered Aernnova is the biggest employer at Aeropolis with 250 staff. It also moved to its 12,000m2 facility from elsewhere in Seville, and builds engine cowlings for the Embraer ERJ-145, vertical and horizontal stabilisers for the Bombardier CRJ700/900, and the Airbus A330/A340 cargo door.

Coup for city

The decision to site the final assembly line for the €20 billion ($26 billion) A400M programme in Seville - pipping several other European candidates - was a coup for the city where EADS's military transport division is based. The many thousands of jobs it will support in the supply chain are as important as the 1,000 direct jobs at the A400M factory.

The decision also confirmed Seville's status as one of Europe's aerospace hubs. "We have great expectations for the aeronautical sector here," says Francisco Herrero León, president of the city's chamber of commerce. "We have a long history of the aeronautical industry and are heading the right way to be an important point in the European aerospace map."

Seville's aerospace sector began in the 1920s with the formation of Construcciones Aeronauticas SA, or CASA, in the city's Tablada area. After expanding to Cadiz and Madrid, the state-owned company became part of the Airbus consortium in the 1970s and was merged into EADS in 2000.

The 105,000m2 Tablada site is one of two EADS facilities in the city, employing just over 1,000 and building a range of structures for Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer as well as Airbus and EADS. With a building dedicated to its Boeing assembly line, it must rank as one of one of the few civil aerospace factories in the world that builds parts for a direct rival's aircraft, in this case 737 rudders and ailerons and flaperons for the 777.

Fuselage integration

Tablada's in-house products include the horizontal stablilisers and section 18 for the Airbus A320 and horizontal stablilisers, elevators, belly fairing and main landing gear doors for the A380. It carries out fuselage integration on EADS's Casa's small military transports, and will build the elevator, flap support fairings and engine cowls for the A400M.

A 160,000m2 site next to the A400M factory at San Pablo is the final assembly line and delivery centre for the CN-235 and C-295. Demand for these workhorses is steady, with 22 aircraft due to be built this year for customers including the US Coast Guard and Portuguese air force. EADS also has structures plants nearby at Cadiz and Puerto Real.

Although its government promotes the aerospace credentials of Andalusia as a whole, tourism, property and agriculture dominate the economy of Spain's second largest region. Seville is its aerospace and administrative capital with around two-thirds of Andalusia's 150 or so aerospace companies. The province of Cadiz, which includes Puerto Real, is the second centre. Andalusia comprises Spain's second aerospace cluster after Madrid - with 22% of national revenues compared with Madrid's 60%, according to trade body ATECMA. This percentage will rise once A400M production begins.

Delays to the Airbus Military A400M transport have not quietened the buzz around the Aeropolis aerospace industrial park in Seville

Airbus's recent success has been good news for Andalusia, which saw aerospace turnover grow two-thirds between 2001 and 2007 to €825 million and employment by three-quarters to more than 6,750. Of these, around 2,600 work for EADS, with the remainder employed in a supply chain growing in competence and confidence. A typical SME employs 80 and has revenues of €10 million, says Simon Vázquez González, executive adviser for aerospace to the Andalusian government.

However, challenges remain for a sector heavily dependent on manufacturing aircraft structures, a legacy driven by the requirements of its local OEM customers. "It's our achilles heel," says González. "We would like to be more into systems integration and electronics engineering." Moving up the value chain is vital, with companies taking on complex, subcontracted engineering projects and supply chain management. "If we don't increase engineering content, we could have a big challenge from developing countries," warns Manuel Cruz Ballesteros, director of Hélice Foundation, a body set up by the regional government to develop aerospace.

Help could come from Andalusia's aerospace advanced technologies centre CATEC, which is opening headquarters at Aeropolis. The non-profit organisation works with SMEs to develop new products and technologies. A test facility for unmanned air vehicles is planned as part of a bid to become the "centre for excellence for UAVs in Spain".

Other objectives include encouraging SMEs to collaborate or merge to cope with bigger and more complicated work packages as OEMs consolidate their supply base. This has begun with the creation of tier one groupings such as Alestis Aerospace and Aerojoint. Bigger businesses will also be able to compete internationally. "We need to lessen our dependence on EADS Casa," says González. "We have been too dependent on Casa. If Casa had a problem, the suppliers would have a problem."

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