players such as Aerospatiale, Airbus Industrie, Alenia, British Aerospace,
CASA, and DASA dominate Europe's aeronautics industry. Below the big names,
however, are hundreds of smaller companies that are often at the cutting
edge of innovation but face serious problems plugging in and profiting
from pan-European research programmes. The AeroSME
project set out to meet the specific needs of SMEs, which account for
around 2.4% of the sector's total turnover.
research is recognised as a high risk and difficult environment for the
sector's biggest players and is even more of a problem for small companies
with only a fraction of the financial resources of the big spenders. The
pay-day for research carried out now could be several years down the line,
if at all. Around 13% of the aerospace sector's turnover is spent annually
on research and development. Long lead times for research, high costs
and the preference of big companies to deal with tried and tested suppliers,
all tend to work against small companies. The marked consolidation within
the sector is another factor that can freeze out small firms.
take up by SMEs
special characteristics of the aerospace sector resulted in a poor
take-up by small and medium sized aerospace companies of the opportunities
offered under the EU's Fourth
Framework Programme of research. To address this problem, the
European Commission and Europe's aerospace industry have combined
to create AeroSME.
project is aimed at making aerospace SMEs aware of opportunities
to participate in research within the Fifth
Framework Research Programme and the CRAFT
programme. It also aims to make SMEs aware of partnership possibilities
with each other and advise them on how best to qualify for EU funding.
Individual companies and national aerospace associations from the
15 EU countries, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, the Czech Republic
and Israel are taking part.
programme to boost research
is the direct result of discussions between the European
Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA) and the Commission's
Research Directorate. The programme has three main goals:
find out the research needs of small and medium sized aerospace
companies and where the gaps in existing aid are;
design measures which can boost their participation in European
put these measures into effect.
first two phases have been completed. Complaints by small companies
that they do not know who potential partners are and what funding
opportunities to target have resulted in the creation of a AeroSME
database and the AeroSME
website. These provide information on around 300 small aerospace
companies and simple information packs on how to get through the
maze of successfully taking part in EU programmes. The database
helps small companies contact each other and allows the sector's
biggest players to target small partners in niche markets who might
be interested in joint research or sub-contracts.
"Our real aim is to make SME's work together. In the past, distance
between companies, language problems, and a basic lack of awareness
of possible partners made this difficult," says Brian Morris, the
equipment attaché at AECMA and one of the main creators of AeroSME.
"Partnerships have already been created that would not have existed
is in many ways a direct result of the lessons learnt by national
associations of aerospace businesses. These have in some cases developed
sophisticated means of communication and co-operation. Companies
appear to thrive when clustered together.
third and final phase is began officially in May 2000, but had already
been partially pre-empted. This included the creation of a help
desk to field questions from companies and to give advice, especially
on the third call
for FP5 research projects which is launched in March 2001.
do need to be more proactive and help themselves but it is essential
that they have access to a focal point which is dedicated to them
specifically to address dealing with the complexity of EU research
and technical development activities," says Morris.
The EU has also provided funding through accompanying measures
to establish a project called Support
for Collaborative Aeronautical Research (SCRATCH) which is
intended to complement the work of AeroSME. The SCRATCH
project, which is due to end next April, aims to encourage
SMEs that are active in the aerospace industry to participate
in EU research projects. Working through a consortium of five
aerospace organisations in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and
the UK. SCRATCH publicises information about research projects
to raise awareness among SMEs and promotes contacts between interested
parties in the different countries. It also offers services to
help SMEs prepare and write project proposals, find partners and
set up partnerships.
exporter and employer
Aerospace is one of the EU's biggest export earners, and employs
around 32,000 people. AECMA estimates the sector will enjoy
annual growth of between 2% and 3% a year for the next 15
to 20 years. European companies are in many cases vying for
business internationally, mostly against US rivals, in what
is a highly competitive business.
to AECMA, there are signs that the number of start ups in
the sector is increasing as work traditionally carried out
by big companies is spun off and sub-contracted. In addition,
the development of new technologies, such as the use of specialised
ceramics and micro-technology in aircraft, lends itself to
fleet-of-foot small companies that can quickly adapt to new
a national and regional level, the aerospace sector is a prime
example where clusters of companies can breed success by stimulating
co-operation, sharing know-how, and directing orders to each
other. Historically, many of these clusters have developed
at sites where Europe's aerospace industry was born over 100
recently, an important cluster of companies has sprung up
around the main Airbus production site in Toulouse, Southern
France. Other clusters exist around British Aerospace production
plants in North-West England; in Bavaria and around Hamburg/Bremen
in German; around Turin, Naples and Milan in Italy; and around
Madrid and Bilbao in Spain.
AeroSME will help these regional clusters and national associations
overcome local and domestic horizons to co-operate at a wider
level. "The basis of our work is encouraging communication
and the flow of information," says AECMA's Brian Morris.
part of the New perspectives in aeronautics
key action, Europe's aerospace industry and the European Commission
have created a programme aimed at encouraging SMEs to participate
in research. The AeroSME
project has two main aims:
out the research needs of SME companies; and
measures to boost participation in European projects.
A database has been created to help SMEs find potential partners
for research and a help desk has been set up to field inquiries
Project: AeroSME is a joint activity with the European
Association of Aerospace Industries (AECMA)