From 1 October, the UK's aerospace, defence and security industry will speak with one voice. The 310-member Society of British Aerospace Companies - owner of the Farnborough air show - and the 700-member Defence Manufacturers Association will formally merge to form Aerospace, Defence and Security or ADS. Allowing for overlap, the new organisation will have 800 members, representing all the big beasts of the sector down to small specialist suppliers.

The merger comes at a time when the industry perhaps needs a strong advocate more than ever. The recession has extended its tentacles into the UK's previously robust hi-tech engineering sector. Delays to the Boeing 787 have impacted on a number of companies, and all parties are making noises about cutting defence spending after next year's election. The opposition shadow chancellor - or finance minister - went as far on 15 September as to name a potential hitlist of programmes under threat from a Conservative government. They included the Airbus Military A400M, two aircraft carriers and the planned acquisition of further Eurofighter Typhoons.

On the same day, BAE Systems announced that more than 1,100 jobs would go at three plants, with its Woodford site closing once Nimrod MRA4 production ends in 2012. The recent draft judgement by the World Trade Organisation on state subsidies to Airbus could also make it harder down the line for the UK to provide loan aid to the airframer's wing-manufacturing centres at Bristol and Broughton and help develop composite wing-building expertise through research and technology grants.

One main message ADS will take to politicians is that not only does investing in a strong domestic defence sector create a strong multiplier effect in terms of creating high-skilled jobs in the defence industry and export potential, it also has huge spin offs for commercial manufacturers. "Take the A400M," says Ian Godden, head of the SBAC and soon to become chairman of the new organisation. "If we cut it, the implication for the civil industry would be enormous in terms of our ability to compete to build composite wings for the [Airbus] A320 successor. This work would go to Germany and Spain."

Rees Ward, who leads the ADS and is becoming chief executive of ADS, adds: "The government needs to understand that for every £100 million of investment, you get much more back. Defence is very good for the economy."


The merger of the two bodies ends a 33-year rift, when 12 members of the SBAC left to form the DMA following a row over the organisation's willingness to support component manufacturers in the defence supply chain. The reasons behind the split seem archaic today in a very different, much more global industry and the generation of business leaders involved in the divorce are no longer still sitting in boardrooms. However, it has taken over three decades for fences to be mended.

Godden and Ward say they both, separately, came to the conclusion that a merger was necessary when they came into their jobs two years ago. Getting overwhelming membership backing, they claim, was not difficult, although there have been challenges in legally combining two trade bodies with different assets, cultures and reputations. Of the two, the SBAC is higher-profile, not only because of Farnborough but because it has a slick central London-based communications and lobbying operation. The DMA, however, has many more members and a better networking set-up, with 75 regional events. It also comes with a spin-off organisation, the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers.

The decision to leave UK or British out of the new name was mainly for reasons of neatness, though Goddennotes there was also some opposition to a British moniker in Scotland and Northern Ireland whereADS will have standalone subsidiaries.

There is also no place in the merged organisation for England's five regional aerospace trade associations, which under the Labour government since 1997 have been conduits for regional industrial and training investment.

Some of them - such as Farnborough Aerospace and the North West Aerospace Alliance - have become powerful member-owned businesses in their own right. The ADS will engage with them in a loose federation, but absorbing them into a super-entity is, so far, off the agenda.

Source: Flight International