RAINER UPHOFF / MADRID
There is a new dynamism in Spain's aerospace industry in the wake of massive state reorganisation. Airbus's decision to bring the A400M final assembly line to Seville, and vigorous regional support are transforming the country's fortunes
Airbus's decision to locate the A400M final assembly line in Seville has given the Spanish aerospace industry a major boost as it consolidates after rapid growth. In the 1980s, state-owned Casa dominated the aerospace sector. Today, there are over 200 companies in the aerospace business, mostly in Madrid, the Basque region and Andalusia.
The sector has doubled sales between 1997 and 2002, and the fact that employment only rose by around 20% over the same period indicates higher productivity and a shift to higher-added-value products, based on proprietary technology.
After a long growth period, last year was the first in which industry output decreased slightly. Antonio Fuentes, president of Spanish industry association ATECMA, says: "The worldwide airline crisis, the bankruptcy of Fairchild Dornier and the delay of the Airbus A400M project created an unexpected reduction in orders. The good news is the vigour of the Airbus A380 project, the commitment from some regional governments, as well as the increased availability of R&D funding, which has stabilised at around 14% of revenues," he adds.
EADS Casa is still at the heart of the industry, but firms such as Gamesa Aeronautica, Indra, ITP and Sener have become key players in the last decade. While the Basque and Andalusian regions have developed local aerospace industries, the government has restructured, merged and privatised partly state-owned companies - notably Iberia, EADS Casa and Indra. The evolution of the aerospace industry from a vertically integrated business to risk-sharing partnerships has revitalised the sector.
One mid-sized company exemplifying the change is MASA, a subcontractor with around 500 employees and manufacturing sites in Logrono and Toledo. MASA and its subsidiary ICSA make components for aircraft, including the Eurofighter, all Airbus models, particularly the A310 and the A380, the EADS Casa C235/295 transporters and the Embraer ERJ-145 among others.
MASA commercial director Jose Antonio Ortega says: "I think Airbus's success was based on its industrial model, which created a network of suppliers and partners. This generated a lot of technological know-how, while allowing Airbus to react more flexibly to the market. Boeing learned the lesson and is also moving towards a worldwide network of risk-sharing-partners."
When Casa became part of EADS, its best known area was military transport, although it also brought important assets into EADS' Aeronautics and Space divisions. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter the commercial aircraft arena with a civil version of the C-235, EADS Casa focused on military customers. This strategy has borne fruit, achieving highly visible sales to Brazil and the USA, and to other competitive publicly tendered acquisition programmes.
With several production centres in Madrid and Andalusia and employing more than 6,000 people, the Military Transport Aircraft division contributed revenues of €524 million ($587 million) to EADS Casa last year. While this represents a minor part of the EADS universe, the A400M programme is expected to change this dramatically.
EADS Casa is developing technologies beyond military aircraft in order to offer complete systems. Based on its expertise with maritime patrol systems, in recent years EADS Casa has developed its Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS), which integrates new-generation mission sensors, a search radar, forward-looking infrared, an acoustic system and data link 11. It can be installed on any large anti-submarine platform, such as the Atlantique or the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Recent international FITS contracts include the navies of Brazil, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and the US Coast Guard.
An important area for which EADS Casa has assumed responsibility is development of aerial refuelling tankers based on Airbus A310 and A330 aircraft, initially with the British Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme in mind. This covers development and manufacturing of tanker conversion kits, and an advanced air-refuelling boom system. Aiming to become the most technologically advanced refuelling system on the market, and to give Europe technological independence in the area, the 18m (59ft)-long boom will have fly-by-wire control, giving artificial 3D vision for the operator on night missions. Developed with Madrid-based Optronics specialist Tecnobit, it will provide fuel flow of up to 4,540 litres (1,200USgal)/min.
Source: Flight International