CATEC AND THE TRAINING CENTRE WILL ENABLE THE ANDALUSIAN AERONAUTICAL INDUSTRY TO CONTINUE ITS DEvELOPMENT WITH MAJOR POTENTIAL fOR THE fUTURE

The Regional Minister of Economy, Innovation and Science, Antonio ávila, analyses in this interview the significance for the Andalusian aeronautical sector of the start-up of two projects promoted by the Andalusian government with the aim of continuing to consolidate the industry as one of the driving forces behind the region's economy: the Centre for Advanced Aerospace Technology (CATEC) and the flight Simulator and Crew Training Centre. Mr ávila highlights the fundamental need to diversify in terms of products, services and technological capabilities in order to consolidate the Andalusian industry in the coming years in its quest for new international business opportunities.

 

The Andalusian aeronautical industry is in luck following the inauguration of the Centre for Advanced Aerospace Technology (CATEC) and the Flight Simulator and Crew Training Centre, two projects promoted by the Andalusian Regional Government through the Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development (FADA). What is your assessment of the start-up of these two facilities which are set to become the flagships of the aeronautical and aerospace sector in our region?

The Training Centre and CATEC are two important projects which will enable our aeronautical industry to continue its development with major potential for the future, as it has been doing up until now. Both these initiatives backed by the Andalusian Regional Government will provide Andalusian aeronautical companies with greater opportunities for expansion. The Training Centre will be managed jointly by FADA and Airbus Military under an agreement with funding by the Andalusian Regional Government of 82 million euros in collaboration with the Spanish government. It will position our region at the forefront in Europe for technology in the field of flight simulation and crew training for military airlifters, and it will train all the pilots who will fly the A400M, among others. Apart from the income and employment generated by the presence of some 1,000 students who will attend the Centre, it also offers the sector the most advanced technology in the field of flight simulation and training, including an R+D department to develop projects in this field.

As a consequence, the Centre also represents an opportunity for Andalusian firms in the sector as a source of know-how for our auxiliary industry, providing a means of entry into this business area and the possibility of joint projects. Similarly, one of the main lines of work of CATEC is to promote the development of new business areas in the Andalusian sector and cooperation between companies to enable them to take on larger projects based on applied research and technology transfer. Apart from providing advice and assistance to Andalusian aeronautical companies carrying out R+D projects to further their development and improve competitiveness, the Centre also aims to promote the image of the region’s aeronautical sector as an industrial cluster. Together, these facilities represent a major commitment by the Andalusian government to a strategic sector which has demonstrated its resistance and competitiveness even in the midst of the current economic crisis, generating income and employment over the long term and major advances in the field of innovation and technology. The aeronautical sector is also one of the cornerstones of the new sustainable economic model which we are looking to implement in the region.

CATEC is a pioneering centre for research and development of new technologies in the aeronautical and aerospace industry, not only in Andalusia but also at a national level. Do you think that it will comprise the definitive step to achieve effective technology transfer and its application by Andalusian companies in the sector?

The aeronautical industry is one of the sectors which are currently making the biggest commitment to know-how and technology. In fact, in recent years the engineering and R+D departments have accounted for a significant proportion of new staff recruitments for these companies. Last year the auxiliary industry recorded the biggest increase in this area, from 19% to 22.4%. Furthermore, more than 13 million euros was spent on R+D activities, investments aimed at improving new business lines with greater added value such as composites and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Given the current situation of the global aeronautical industry, with increased competition by emerging markets, the need has arisen to develop products with greater added value which involve high levels of technology and quality and the key role of know-how. The majority of our aeronautical companies now understand this need; now we need to continue working to increase awareness among the auxiliary industry network. Obviously, we can always improve in this area. CATEC has been developed precisely in order to continue in this direction. Among other things, it will act as a tool to facilitate and improve access to technology by smaller firms which do not have their own R+D department with staff specialising in these kinds of activities, nor the technological capabilities necessary to assume projects of this nature.

Another of the Centre’s aims is to strengthen relations with other national and international companies through collaboration on projects and initiatives which may be of major benefit to the Andalusian sector. Do you think that it is necessary to further promote this cooperation to enhance the competitiveness of the Andalusian industry?

Undoubtedly we need to continue advancing in this area. Our productive fabric is generally made up of small and medium-sized companies and the aeronautical sector is no exception. Admittedly, the industry does have various medium-sized firms and some major companies. However, we have been working for various years now to raise awareness among companies in this and other sectors that business cooperation between Andalusian companies and also with other Spanish and international firms is a key factor which we need to foster, because it opens up new and bigger opportunities

This is even more important in the aeronautical industry, where turnkey job packages are becoming increasingly commonplace, which embrace everything from design through to manufacture, assembly, engineering and even risk sharing. In order to continue expanding and increasing workloads as we have up until now, many of our companies will have to join forces or work with other national and international companies in order to enhance their capabilities where necessary and call on increased financial backing. Fortunately, we already have examples in our aeronautical industry which show that this message has begun to sink in, such as Alestis Aerospace, which has brought together Sacesa and Grupo Alcor, and the incorporation of small companies into Elimco.

Experimentation and development of new Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is one of the key strategic areas for the research and technological activity of CATEC through initiatives such as the ATLAS project. Does the Andalusian government consider this technology to be the future of the aeronautical sector? What benefits will this have for the Andalusian industry and economy?

The Andalusian government is committed to sustainable economic activities which generate income and employment in the region. In this sense, we believe that the aeronautical industry is a strategic sector because it has achieved excellent results and it is also in line with our sustainable economic model, with an important emphasis on technology, know-how and R+D activities and a commitment to quality and greater added value. In this context, for various years now we have been promoting the development of an industry for unmanned aerial vehicles as a new business area which offers major opportunities for our companies. The development of this segment on the international market has shown that apart from an increase of applications in military fields it also has multiple civilian uses which are likely to further increase in the future. Andalusia also offers excellent resources and the necessary experience for the development of UAVs.

The region already has the INTA Experimental Centre for these aircraft based at El Arenosillo (Huelva). We are developing a new experimental centre at Villacarrillo (Jaén) and we also have researchers who have been working in this field for various years at Seville’s School of Engineering. Evidently, the entire future of the sector will not revolve around this business area, but it is one of the activities to focus on because it will result in greater diversification and it has excellent potential for development on the international market.

The Flight Simulator Centre will make Andalusia the most important training centre for military aircraft in Europe. How will it influence training activities in the Andalusian sector?

This Centre represents a further step towards completion of the aeronautical training infrastructure in our region. Andalusia already offers a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and the graduates who have completed their studies with this specialisation have been well received on the job market. We also offer different vocational training courses related with the industry and we have developed a complete programme of professional qualifications in recent years which has enabled the official recognition of know-how obtained through work experience.

This Centre is a further advance in the highly specialised area of pilot and crew training, a segment which is reliant upon the very latest technological advances. The Centre also offers the latest training techniques in this field. The Andalusian government is working to further develop these training options, mainly in the field of vocational training, for business opportunities are to no avail if we do not have the human resources prepared to assume the future challenges of the industry.

Despite the current international crisis, the results of the Andalusian aeronautical industry in 2009 were fairly positive, with a notable increase in employment and turnover. What is the outlook for 2010?

The latest figures indicate that 2009 has been a positive year for the sector in spite of the economic and financial situation and the cutbacks which have been made in international aviation. Our aeronautical industry has definitively consolidated itself as the second most important Spanish aeronautical pole in terms of turnover and employment, with growth of 8.8% (to 1.541 billion euros) and 16.3% respectively.

This means that more than 8,700 Andalusian families have a member working in this industry (8,786 job positions). In addition, if we analyse its development since 2001, the year of the first report on the sector by the Hélice Foundation, we can see that there is a very favourable trend with double the employment levels and triple the turnover of nine years ago. We do not have the definitive figures for 2010 yet, but the impression we get from the sector is one of sustained growth. Exports increased by 17.2% in the first nine months of the year. This is double the national increase (7.2%) and a clear indication that we are headed in the right direction.

Do you think that Asian markets should receive special attention from Andalusian firms in the coming years? Is the future of the sector inevitably dependent upon diversification of capabilities and customers?

According to the information available to the leading world manufacturers, China will need more than 4,000 new civil aircraft in the coming 20 years. This is obviously an emerging consumer market with major potential. Our industry is currently making major efforts to diversify in terms of both products and customers in order to reduce risks. In this sense I believe that we should not rule out any possibilities.

Traditionally, and also due to its proximity, the leading European manufacturer Airbus is our main customer. However, we are working to reduce its weight in the total percentage of turnover, not by reducing our turnover in products for Airbus, but rather by expanding to other areas and customers. In fact, in 2009 the sales of products to customers other than Airbus accounted for 21% of the total turnover for the sector. By diversifying our portfolio of customers we reduce risks, which is beneficial for our industry. Similar efforts are being made in terms of our capabilities.

While for many years our industry has specialised in tooling and we have made major efforts to update processes through technological advances and development of new fields such as composite materials (for which we are currently nationwide leaders), our companies are increasingly focusing on engineering and systems to guarantee the industry's future. We need to continue advancing in areas characterised by increased know-how, added value and quality, for that is the future of the industry.

Is Alestis Aerospace prepared to take on new challenges and secure new international contracts which will enable it to continue supporting the auxiliary industry in Andalusia?

 

Could the establishment in Andalusia of a new Tier One supplier such as Aciturri complicate matters?

Far from posing a difficulty, the fact that we have more than one Tier One supplier in the region offers greater opportunities for our auxiliary sector. Apart from Alestis, Andalusia has two other potential Tier One suppliers, Aciturri and Aernnova. In practice, this makes it more likely that the major job packages offered by leading manufacturers will end up in Andalusia. This in turn means more work for our auxiliary industry. Regardless, there can be no doubt that Andalusia needed a Tier One company, because the tendency of the leading world manufacturers is to reduce its direct suppliers to a limited group of Tier One suppliers with greater financial capacity who can assume the risk associated with these projects and offer the possibility of providing turnkey solutions. If our region did not have a supplier of this nature we could lose future work opportunities.

That is why the Andalusian Regional Government has supported the creation of Alestis. In addition, the fact that Andalusia has more than one Tier One supplier increases the possibilities of securing new job packages which will in turn increase the number of jobs subcontracted to our companies. This process is in line with our commitment to diversification of the sector, in terms of both products and customers. As regards Alestis, I believe that up until now the company has proven its worth, securing important contracts for the A350 and Embraer in its first year. We also understand that it is currently working to secure new workloads and projects.

 

The impression we get from th sector is that 2010 has been a year of sustained growth. Expor increased by 17.2% in the first nine months of the year, double the national increase (7.2%) and a clear indication that we are headed in the right direction