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image European Research News Centre > European Research Policy > Aeronautics and space: striving for excellence
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image image image Date published: 07/11/02
  image Aeronautics and space: striving for excellence
RTD info special FP6
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  Aeronautics and space are two exemplary sectors in which Europe has demonstrated its originality, scientific and technological competence and economic efficiency. Airbus (50% of aircraft orders worldwide) and Ariane (50% of the satellite launching market) are proof of this fact. These success stories are the result of continuous private – and public-sector investment – and the constant coordination which must accompany it. It is this latter mission which the European Union has identified as a priority for its Sixth Framework Programme.
   
   

To consolidate its leading position on the global market, the European aeronautics industry must increase its research effort, which currently lags far behind that of the United States. The US federal government allocates twice as much to civilian aeronautics research as the EU – and that is not including R&D for the military sector where US expenditure is 14 times that of Europe.

If the Union is to avoid a return to the 1970s and an overwhelming US domination of the crucial medium – and long-haul markets, it must develop a genuine European aeronautics industry. It is an effort well worth making given that the sector is already Europe's leading exporter, with exports worth more than ?22 billion net in 1999, and some 7 000 companies generating a revenue of over ?66 billion. These directly employ around 400 000 mainly highly skilled workers and have indirectly created another 1.5 million jobs.

Vital coordination

Ploughing 15% of its turnover back into R&D (about ?9 billion a year), the industry cannot risk wasting its resources through duplication and a failure to coordinate its activities which are currently divided between a number of national centres and programmes. A recent estimate put total public and private financing needs at over ?100 billion.

Through its 300 projects the Union currently finances almost 30% of total civil research in the sector. The Sixth Framework Programme will be allocating it ?1.075 billion compared with 700 million under the previous programme. In addition to investments, European industry will also need regulatory and strategic support to create a genuine industrial platform for aeronautics at EU level.

First division

European co-operation in the space sector, in particular within the European Space Agency (ESA), has clearly demonstrated its potential. Ariane is a major league player on the incredibly complex and competitive launcher market while, at the same time, guaranteeing the Union independent access to space. In 2000, the European satellite industry, which employs over 33 000 people and records a turnover of ?5.5 billion a year, won more than 50% of commercial contracts worldwide.

Autonomy is the central concern of the vast Galileo programme, developed in co-operation with the ESA. This new positioning and navigation system provided by a constellation of several dozen satellites (see A new Community chapter) offers a more advanced, efficient and reliable alternative to the American GPS system, which currently has a monopoly. This ambitious industrial project was designed to meet a vast range of civil needs – air traffic control, road, rail and sea traffic management (in the interests of intermodality in particular), the tracking of dangerous substances, rescue operations, etc. - and offers the prospect of creating 150 000 highly skilled jobs and generating revenue of around ?10 billion a year.

By combining space, land and air technologies, the GMES offers equally exciting prospects for everything related to environmental monitoring, the management of natural risks, civil protection and common foreign and security policy (CFSP). Finally, the space component is set to be an inherent part of future telecommunication networks, for access to mobile and broad band networks for example.

The drive to integrate industrial capacities and development activities which ensured European success on the launcher market must now be matched by a similar drive for integration in the field of research on satellite service markets. The huge industrial, economic and strategic stakes certainly justify optimal co-operation between European and national programmes and players.


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A new Community chapter

Since September 2000, Union representatives have opened a new chapter aimed at providing Europe with a genuinely common strategy. It will be achieved by working in close co-operation with the ESA in particular. This decision is inspired by the growing importance of space applications in all the economic, social and cultural activities of the modern world.

Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General for Research and coordinator of space policy at the Commission, explains that: 'The objective is to define, with all the players concerned – and first and foremost the ESA – the main lines of a European policy for space which is fully accepted and supported by all the Member States. The Union's role is first of all to ensure support for initiatives taken by the sector's players, whether private or public. This support will be in pursuit of two objectives which have so far been central to the European space effort, namely to develop the technological and industrial base for an autonomous economic exploitation of applications and, at the same time, to achieve a very high level of scientific knowledge for an understanding of our planetary system and space exploration. The Union will provide a common reference system for these players to guarantee the availability of a space infrastructure and efficient derived services. Space science must be better integrated in the European research effort and the appropriate political and regulatory conditions must be provided to ensure the development of the sector and commercial markets.'

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