Aerospace is one of the powerhouses of British industry and profits in the sector have increased by around 10% each year since 2011. UK aerospace is worth around £31bn a year, making Britain the top supplier of both commercial and defence aviation in Europe, and second only to America worldwide.
It is a key player in the industry with 2,400 aviation companies based there, employing 230,000 people. The demand for planes is also soaring; it is estimated global demand will reach approximately 27,000 new passenger aircrafts worth up to £3.7 trillion by 2030. Despite the fact this trillion dollar global industry is only on the up, there is a growing concern that the UK could be left on the runway.
Brexit the runway
The uncertainties mainly arise from the indefinite plan surrounding Brexit, which is causing insecurities across many sectors of work. This could have an impact on the trade of aerospace parts across Europe and also cross-continentally.
The UK makes most of its aviation income not by building whole planes but creating essential components such as the wings and engines. These parts are traded across Europe to companies like Airbus in Germany who then finish the assembly of the aircraft.
In 2016 alone, the UK’s aerospace sector exported £28bn worth of planes and parts, and although it reached as far as Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East, most of the trade was between European countries, namely Germany and Spain. 90% of the UK’s aviation profit is made from exports.
Missing the Airbus?
There is speculation that once Britain has left the single market, France, Germany and Spain could end up hosting larger parts of the aerospace industry. Companies like Airbus will face difficulties trading parts such as wings or even face political pressure to keep the jobs within remaining members of the EU.
Wing work is a highly valuable trade and it is a large part of the manufacturing that takes place in the UK, and has long been a niche market that was almost inherently catered for by Britain. But will others try to take this valuable trade on for themselves?
Government funding: onwards and upwards…
In an effort to combat the crisis in the industry, the government and industry have pledged to provide almost £365 million of funding for new aerospace technologies. Business secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are showing our continued commitment to this vital sector and our intention to keep the UK’s world-beating status. I am proud of our record supporting our great aero industry and we will continue to do all we can to help this high flying sector soar to even greater heights.”
Aviation leaders are hoping that this funding will be what the industry needs to invigorate UK aerospace. The development of new technologies, including Cranfield University’s new £65m Digital Aviation Research Technology Centre is set to keep the UK at the forefront of the industry by developing new and improved technologies for both commercial and defence aircrafts.
Another exciting contract has also been secured the Midlands aero-manufacturer Nasmyth Bulwell, who has secured a contract with international manufacturers Rolls Royce worth £60m, which is a great opportunity for the British aerospace industry and the sustainability of it.
These kinds of contracts are a blessing as it shows that international trading interests are not necessarily reliant on a single-market style exchange. Investment in the future of the aerospace industry is encouraging as it shows how aviation might still have a home in the UK in the years to come.
The other issue the industry faces is a skills crisis amongst British workers, with far too few people gaining the appropriate education to work within the industry. Many workers in UK aviation are from other European countries so there is the possibility of losing skilled workers.
Currently one in three UK aviation companies are not confident they are able to access the necessary design and engineering skills to drive innovation, and the switch from using aluminium in aircrafts to lighter composite materials could also throw a spanner in the works as UK manufacturers could potentially lack the skills or funds for the upgrade to the systems that will be needed.
Luckily every condensation trail has a silver lining and despite turbulence over the future of the industry, steps have been taken in an attempt to keep the UK 39,000 feet above the rest. More than half of The ADS Group (Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space) have begun to tackle the skills crisis by focusing on the development of new business opportunities by investing in production, staff training and apprenticeships in a bid for the UK to create home grown aviation talent and skill-sets.
This is a considerable and positive increase from the 37% of ADS companies last year.
As change is on the horizon for the UK, obstacles will undoubtedly surface, however the industry is currently making an intelligent decision by first tackling the skills shortage that Britain is facing.
In the wake of the decision to leave the EU, Britain needs to work on becoming more independent and self-sufficient than ever, so this is a move that increases the strength of the UK aerospace by ensuring we strengthen the skills, workforce and industry that is such an integral part of not only the economy, but also British heritage.