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Last update: 29/10/2002
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Aeronautics and space: Europe’s right stuff


Aerospace is without doubt a highly strategic industry in terms of technology, the economy, defence and employment. Excellence in aerospace contributes greatly to Europe’s international reputation and to the construction of its common infrastructure and identity. As shown in its creation of a separate ‘Aeronautics and Space’ thematic priority under the Sixth Framework Programme and in its presentation of the recent ‘Star 21’ report, the Commission is taking major steps towards a unified European aeronautics and space strategy, identifying key areas with a view to broadening the understanding of aerospace issues in Europe.


The aerospace industry has undergone profound changes in recent years, including a number of high-profile mergers, acquisitions and partnerships aimed at streamlining and optimising development and production operations. The combination of political will to strengthen Europe's hand in aerospace and defence and sustained efforts by the industry's leaders has resulted in significant and highly successful restructuring. Today, Europe boasts groups such as EADS, Airbus, BAE Systems, and Ariane, bringing together partners from around Europe while consolidating world leadership in their respective fields. Successful co-operative European programmes include the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet, the Tiger and NH 90 helicopters, the Ariane 5 launch vehicle and the Galileo satellite navigation network.

From largest to smallest, numerous European equipment manufacturers, system suppliers and other small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are now fully integrated members of the aerospace supply chain. Indeed, SMEs are forging ahead thanks to new products, growing international sales, and constant innovation.

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‘Aeronautics and space’ is one of the seven thematic priorities under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The primary aim of activities in this area is two-fold: to strengthen – by integrating research efforts – the scientific, technological and competitive bases of the European aeronautics and space industry; and to promote European research in this sector with a view to improving safety and environmental protection.

Of all the forms of transport, aviation has shown the most striking growth over recent decades. Traffic through the airports of the EU has risen at an average rate of 7.4% a year since 1980. The boom in air transport has led to airport overcrowding and overloaded air traffic control systems. Complaints of major inefficiencies and increasing delays mount daily as Europe's airport infrastructure approaches the limit of its capacity.

Against this backdrop, co-operative research in aeronautics has helped to establish Europe as the United States’ only serious competitor in that field. Community research and technological development in aeronautics has several specific aims, including:

  • increasing European industrial competitiveness with regard to civil aircraft, engines and equipment;
  • reducing the environmental impact of aircraft, including fuel consumption, CO2 and NOx emissions and noise;
  • increasing aircraft safety in the face of rising air traffic;
  • increasing the capacity of the air transport system.

A vision for 2020

In January 2001, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin’s ‘Group of Personalities’ delivered its report entitled ‘European Aeronautics: A Vision for 2020’, within the context of the implementation of the European Research Area. The report defined a wide-ranging common vision for European aviation, with ambitious targets for research and development, tackling issues such as safety, the environment and sustainable competitiveness and innovation. The report also recommended the creation of an Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE).

ACARE began its work in June 2001 at the 44th Paris Air Show. Its primary mission is to establish a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) that will serve in the planning of research programmes. At the ACARE launch, Commissioner Busquin said, "In its ‘Vision 2020’ report, the Group of Personalities called on us to make Europe a global leader in the field of aeronautics, but in order to achieve this we know that good research is essential. Europe has to further improve and organise its efforts in the face of worldwide competition, especially from the United States."

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Graphic element Space – a vital role

Today, space is no longer the exclusive realm of scientists and astronauts. Simply stated, space technologies have penetrated every field of economic, social and cultural life. Whole sectors of human activity depend on the exploitation of space, including telecommunications, so much a part of our daily lives, but also meteorology, cartography, environmental observation and surveillance, agriculture, transport, security and defence.

The joint European Commission and European Space Agency (ESA) Communication, entitled ‘Europe and Space: Turning to a new chapter’, issued in September 2000, was a major step in establishing a coherent approach to space in Europe. The approach is built on three pillars:

  • Strengthening the foundation for space activities – preserving independent and affordable access to space and ensuring the industrial capability for designing, manufacturing and operating satellite systems and ground infrastructure;
  • Enhancing scientific knowledge – for a better understanding of our planet and its atmosphere, the solar system and the universe;
  • Exploiting the benefits of space-based tools – for industry and society through exploitation of telecommunications, navigation and environmental capabilities.

A joint task force has been charged with implementing this strategy, including identifying a coherent set of space priorities and mobilising public and private resources and scientific and industrial skills for carrying out major projects. Community space activities are carried out in close coordination with ESA, other space agencies, research centres and industry, in order to optimise the use of funding, and are focused on:

The Star 21 report

A high-level advisory group was set up in 2001 to analyse the state of the European aerospace industry and to assess its longer-term policy needs. In its report, ‘Strategic Aerospace Review for the 21st Century’ (STAR 21), issued in July 2002, the group identified five key areas that deserve specific attention:

  • Competing on world markets – “Fair conditions in international trade and access to markets are essential pre-conditions for ensuring competitiveness-based growth in aerospace.”
  • The operating environment for European aerospace – “A broad range of policies determines the operating environment for Europe’s aerospace industry.”
  • European governance of civil aviation – “It is time to establish a truly integrated regulatory framework for civil aviation.”
  • Vital need for European security and defence capabilities – “A primary responsibility of government is to protect the citizen.”
  • Safeguarding Europe’s role in space – “Over the past 40 years Europe has developed significant space capabilities through its spacecraft and launchers and the ground infrastructure to support them.”

Fulfilling Europe’s ambitions in the aerospace sector means looking into the future, anticipating developments and taking the appropriate policy decisions in the near term that will help Europe to meet its medium- and long-term goals. The STAR 21 report represents a major push towards the creation of a coherent market and policy framework for a vital European industry, and with the new emphasis on ‘Aeronautics and space’ under FP6, aerospace research looks to be on the right track. Such moves should allow European companies to continue to answer customer needs worldwide in what is a highly competitive and strategic market.

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23/09/2002 12:00 UTC ©2002 EUMETSAT

23/09/2002 12:00 UTC ©2002 EUMETSAT

Sources - Links:

Bullet image EADS
Bullet image Airbus
Bullet image BAE Systems
Bullet image Ariane
Bullet image Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin
Bullet image European Aeronautics: A Vision for 2020
Bullet image European Research Area (ERA)
Bullet image ‘Europe and Space: Turning to a new chapter’ (download PDF)
Bullet image ‘Strategic Aerospace Review for the 21st Century’ (STAR 21) (download PDF)