Europe boasts some world-class regional clusters specialising in aeronautics technology. In order to stay competitive, these clusters need to be responsive to changing industry requirements – environmental concerns, for example, are now top of the agenda.
The EU recently decided to impose a cap on CO2 emissions from all international flights – from or to anywhere in the world – that arrive at or depart from an EU airport, putting more pressure on the industry to adopt greener technology. Research into more energy-efficient engines, lighter aero-structures, alternative fuels and electric aircraft equipment has become a priority.
Responding effectively to this trend is vital for these regional clusters and the long-term competitiveness of local businesses and research institutes. Furthermore, R&D funding must be carefully matched to new environmental challenges. The CARE project, funded via the FP7 Regions of Knowledge programme, will ensure these goals are achievable.
CARE will reinforce the R&D networking already instigated at regional level through research-driven clusters. It will increase the competitiveness of these regions in the field of green aircraft transportation by enhancing more effective investments in R&D at regional level, stimulating the setting up of additional regional research-orientated clusters through mentoring from other EU clusters, and encouraging funding and research partnerships at the European level.
“The Regions of Knowledge programme provides capacity to formulate proposals for the future,” says François Aumonier, European Project Manager at Aerospace Valley. “The goal is provide benefits for members of all the partner clusters: laboratories, SMEs and regional authorities.”
Another project focus, according to Aumonier, is to highlight the complementarities between European aeronautics clusters, to define key technological areas requiring finance and to propose improved funding mechanisms. These measures will make it easier for European clusters, comprising research labs and SMEs, to propose and coordinate projects in future regional, national and European funding calls.
The Aerospace Valley world competitiveness cluster in France, the CARE coordinator, is Europe’s leading regional cluster in aeronautics, space and embedded systems. Connecting the French Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine regions, it employs a third of France’s aeronautics workforce and over 50% of the country’s space sector.
The CARE proposal links eight such mature aeronautics clusters with two less-mature ones, which are currently receiving mentoring. An analysis of the state of play will identify the priority challenges, which will then feed into a Joint Action Plan.
“Regional mapping of knowledge, skills and R&T capabilities corresponding to ‘green air transport’ technologies has already been undertaken,” Aumonier explains. “The project will further analyse the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for both the air-transport sector and the regions, one by one and taken together as a whole. Innovation will emerge from the networking created by the project dissemination.”
In the mid and long term, the project identifies coordinated use of sources, cross-fertilisation and partnership building as key to enhancing the competitiveness of regional research actors. The first CARE external advisory board meeting, scheduled for October 2012, will analyse the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in the sector. The project will continue until December 2014, after which the dissemination of CARE’s results both within Europe and internationally, will be a priority.
Aumonier is confident that the project will help ensure that Europe’s regions are well positioned to capitalise on the greening of the global aeronautics industry. “The project partners are enthusiastic about continuing the European aeronautics’ history of transnational collaboration and about focusing on the necessary reduction of the environmental impact of aviation,” he acknowledged.
“The ultimate aim is to achieve greener air transportation systems, lower environmental and health impact at all stages – from aircraft design and building to smoother air and land operations – improved recycling, and more efficient multi-modal transport.”