More than 3,000 aerospace companies operate in the UK, including undisputed global leaders from the UK such as BAE Systems, GKN and Rolls-Royce, European leaders such as Airbus, Cobham, AgustaWestland, Finmeccanica and Thales and large global businesses such as Boeing and Bombardier. In addition the UK aerospace sector has the largest small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) base in Europe, with SMEs accounting for 55 per cent of civil aerospace sales in 2010.
On this page you can find out more about the UK aerospace industry, the impressive supply chain, leading capabilities in Engines, composites, metrology and aircraft systems.
The UK has a particular reputation as a global centre of excellence for the design and production of wings and aerostructures, aero engines and aircraft systems (including landing gears). Aerospace and Defence remains the UK’s second largest private sector investor in research and development. In addition, the UK has a thriving maintenance, repair and overhaul sector, servicing the huge numbers of military and civil aircraft that fly through and from the UK every year.
An integrated aerospace supply chain
One of the strengths of the UK’s aerospace sector is the many smaller, specialist companies working in the highly integrated supply chain. This is the result of a concerted effort to introduce best practice across the aerospace supply chain. Methodologies such as Lean, backed up by strong communication links and extensive use of e-business technologies to exchange information and manage production are now commonplace. The outcome is a more flexible and competitive aerospace industry at all levels.
Leading the way with lightweight composites
The integrated nature of the industry is apparent in the way ideas and technologies are exchanged and applied in different ways, including defence technologies being applied in commercial aircraft. GKN Aerospace developed an innovative composite wing spar for the A400M military transporter, which was the first time lightweight carbon composites were used for a primary structure on a large aircraft wing. Airbus then worked closely with GKN to redevelop the wing spar from the A400 for use on the A350 XWB. This was an essential step in ensuring the A350 lives up to its promise of being faster, more fuel-efficient and quieter than any of its predecessors.
The UK aerospace industry
- around 100,000 people
- Produce the wings for 50% of large aircraft
- over 13,000 UK aero engines in service
- 18% of global market share in 2010
- 400 UK companies supply the Airbus A380 programme
Producing and maintaining aero engines
Rolls-Royce is the world’s second largest aircraft engine manufacturer and a byword for excellence within the industry. The sheer volume of engines produced by Rolls-Royce creates opportunities for the many component manufacturers operating in the UK. Crucially, the presence of Rolls-Royce also ensures an on-going demand for excellence in servicing and maintenance of aircraft engines. Overall, the UK has a 17 per cent share of the $45 billion global maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry.
Innovation in engine maintenance: Metrology Software Products
UK companies are at the forefront of innovation in engine maintenance. Engines are typically overhauled after 30,000 hours of operations and blades repaired wherever possible. However, more than half of blades are scrapped. A partnership between UK-based Metrology Software Products (MSP) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University has developed a breakthrough alternative that promises to automate the repair process. Maintenance company Hong Kong Aero Engines (HAESL), has already signed up to use this.
Many pioneering advances in aircraft performance and safety are based on UK innovation, and today’s aircraft systems engineers continue to build on that heritage.
At centres like Nottingham University’s Institute for Aerospace Technology, academic researchers are focusing on new power systems and improved fault diagnostics, while commercial companies are also investing extensively in development and testing. This diverse range of skills and expertise is helping UK companies respond to a fast-evolving international aerospace industry.
Defence aerospace: ongoing excellence
Defence remains an integral element of the UK’s aerospace capability. In addition to BAE Systems, a number of other major players are based in the UK such as Cobham, the world leader in air-to-air refuelling equipment. The company also develops communications and navigation systems, and its antenna equipment was chosen by Korean Aerospace Industries Ltd for its new military helicopter.