Italian propulsion systems supplier Avio is expanding its business efforts outside Europe and is continuing to invest in R&D for civil, military and spaceflight programmes, according to chief executive Orazio Ragni

The 2009 Le Bourget show comes in the midst of a severe economic downturn. What strategies has Avio developed to counter this crisis and which new products are you presenting at the exhibition?

The Le Bourget air show is a meeting point and showcase for the aerospace world. The 48th edition will see the unveiling of the fourth stage of Vega, the new European launcher developed by ELV, of which Avio is the major shareholder (70%), with the Italian Space Agency (30%). Avio can look to the future with a certain serenity, thanks to highly diversified businesses and an order backlog of €5.9 billion at the end of April.

However, to maintain our competitiveness, on the organisation and investments side we must reduce the structure costs and continue to invest in R&D, developing a stronger relationship with universities. On the business side, we have to enlarge our efforts in non-EU countries, without abandoning the opportunity in certain European nations where we are already present, such as Poland and the Netherlands, and the new EU member states.

What is the status of Vega launcher programme?

The first three solid-propellant stages of the Vega launcher are completing validation procedures for the maiden flight, which will allow the project to move quickly to the production phase. Unlike the first three stages, the fourth, called the Attitude Vernier Upper Module, includes a lower section with a bi-liquid propellant propulsion subsystem.

AVUM is expected to be certificated in October. Before the year-end, all four stages will be ready for the certification flight. The launcher assembly validation activities and the integration with the ground segment are planned to start at the beginning of next year, allowing the Vega to be ready for the first qualification flight, planned before the end of 2010.

In the near future, which military programmes does Avio plan to participate in?

The last round of negotiations on Eurofighter Tranche 3 will allow us to extend Eurojet EJ200 production, of which Avio maintains a 20% share, until later next decade. Avio also has development and production responsibilities within the F136 engine programme. Avio subsidiary DutchAero is working with the Netherlands Defence Material Organisation to develop a private-public managing partnership for a Regional Support Centre devoted to JSF engine maintenance, overhaul and modifications, with potential assembly capabilities.

How is Avio maintaining its leading position on the civil market?

The strategic partnership with Snecma/Safran, with a 10% share in the SaM146 propulsion system for the Sukhhoi Superjet 100 regional jet, will allow Avio to reinforce its presence in the regional transport aircraft segment.

Our participation in the production of the GE90 engine is most profitable for company revenues in the civil sector. Avio is also involved in the GEnx, which has accumulated more than 60% of the engine market for Boeing 787 applications, and the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 for the A380, although at a reduced delivery rate compared to forecasts.

Which are Avio's main R&D genres?

The qualitative jump in R&D, under the EU framework, will come from new engine architectures, which will allow us to satisfy environmental compatibility targets that are considered mandatory for air transport in the 2020s.

In this context, engine technology development assumes a deeper strategic relevance. In addition to an important and continuing contribution to major European research and technology demonstration programmes, Avio participates in JTI Clean Sky and other international initiatives, maintaining an active innovation role.

In the space sector we are studying an evolution of the Vega launcher, called Lyra, which will have a 30% increase in payload capacity and a new cryogenic liquid oxygen and methane-based propulsion system, offering a lower environmental impact and improved performance compared to current solutions.

Source: Flight Daily News