BAE Systems apprentice Pav Bhogal, who picked up the Best Apprentice of the Year prize at EEF's Take Off In Aerospace awards 2013.

Industry focus: aerospace

We take a look at the UK aerospace sector: what are the best routes into this industry, the most sought-after skills and the biggest employers.

The UK aerospace industry is the largest in Europe and second biggest in the world after the US with a 17 per cent global market share. The industry directly employs more than 100,000 people and another 130,000 indirectly. It supports more than 3,000 companies distributed across the UK and contributes £24 billion to the economy every year.

In 2012 it was responsible for 5.2 per cent of manufacturing gross value added (GVA) and 4.4 per cent of employment. Three quarters of the industry’s product is exported. According to figures from ADS Group, the trade organisation for the UK aerospace, defence, security and space industries, commercial aerospace grew by 28 per cent in 2013. Already this year, its monthly order delivery data reveals a record first quarter of aircraft and engine deliveries in 2014: 302 single-aisle and wide body aircraft were delivered in the first three months of the year, which is a 35 per cent increase on the same quarter in 2011 and 7.5 per cent up on the period last year.

What’s happening in aerospace?

UK aerospace is having a good year in terms of orders and the global industry is also showing signs of maintaining a strong position throughout 2014. More importantly, for those engineers and technologists hoping to enter the industry over the next few years, the medium and longer-term picture also looks bright.

First off, ADS Group reports that there is an order backlog of 11,318 aircraft and 20,202 engines and this will carry on growing as more orders come in for this year.  It spells much welcomed security for those UK companies operating in this area as the backlog alone is estimated to equal nine years’ work.

ADS Group chief executive Paul Everitt also explains that the increasing global demand for civil aircraft means market projections anticipate a demand for 60,000 new aircraft over the next 20 years (large commercial aircraft, business aircraft and regional jets), which together are valued at more than $5 trillion. Added to this, the global market demand for new commercial helicopters by 2030 could amount to more than 40,000 units.

Everitt explains that also impacting the sector is the growth of airports and the drive towards a more sustainable approach in the industry.

“More efficient, sustainable aircraft are growing in importance, especially as air traffic increases,” he says. “Sustainable fuels, fuel-efficient engines and aircraft that are economic when it comes to fuel consumption will all be very important.”

For the UK, it is key that it continues its investment in research and technology, which is one of its strengths. Earlier this year, the new headquarters for the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) was opened in Cranfield, Bedfordshire. The institute’s aim is to drive the UK’s intellectual leadership in aero-dynamics, propulsion, aero-structures and advanced systems and it will help allocate £2 billion of funding to R&D projects across the country.

Among these is a project focusing on wind tunnel research and testing at the Bedford-based Aircraft Research Association (ARA). The wind tunnels will allow more advanced research to be carried out in the early development stage of aircraft and helicopters. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills predicts that improvements enabled by the ATI are expected to lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions of more than 100 million tonnes each year from the next generation aircraft which, it points out, is the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road around the world.

What skills will be required/opportunities will exist?

With increasing global competition, Everitt, emphasises that the UK needs to make sure it is developing a pipeline of talent.

“High-value skills in these sectors will play an important role in maintaining the contribution that the sector currently makes to the overall UK economy,” he says.

Aeronautical engineering degrees, in addition to aerospace and mechanical engineering will be in demand and chemistry and physics graduates will also be required for broad range of tasks. Everitt explains that the current shift to carbon-fibre composite structures and highly integrated electronic systems will require “new more advanced skill sets to meet future demands”.

Who are your potential employers and what are the best routes in?

Graduate and apprenticeships programmes are available. There are plenty of big names in the aerospace sector to target, such as Airbus, AgustaWestland, BAE Systems, Boeing, Bombardier, Cobham and GKN so check out their company career sites.

Bear in mind though that there are also SMEs and even companies with just a handful of people who offer specialists services and will be working at the technological leading edge. Individual career sites are the best sources of information for graduate programmes. Meanwhile there are two different aerospace apprenticeships available. The engineering skills organisation Semta explains that manufacturing/engineering focuses on designing and building the complex parts and systems that make up the aircraft while maintenance involves inspecting, repairing and maintaining parts and technology.

Where can I find out more?

The following websites will help to keep abreast of developments and allow you to immerse yourself in the sector.

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