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The new era of Innovation Europe

Ten priorities to safeguard a strong European aerospace and defence sector today and tomorrow

Over the last decades, Europe has developed impressive technological capabilities and has become a world-market leader in key industries. European decision-makers need to address the following ten priorities in the aerospace and defence sector without delay to maintain this edge.

The aerospace and defence sector is a major contributor to the economic welfare of Europe. In 2017, the EU aerospace and defence sector employed 1.5 million people directly and indirectly and turned over €220.2bn. The industry invested 10% of its turnover into research and development, double the rate of most other sectors.

1.      Europe needs an Industrial Strategy

Key global players like the U.S. and China already consider the aeronautics, defence and space sectors highly strategic and are part of their national priorities. Aerospace and defence are high-tech sectors that secure Europe’s competitiveness and autonomy. Hence the need for Europe’s decision-makers to launch a robust Industrial Strategy. Today, we have the opportunity to pick up on the momentum and create the basis for European industrial leadership.

2.      Boost the sustainability 

The sustainability of the industry needs to be boosted to create cleaner and quieter aircraft. Sustainable flight is probably one of the greatest challenges of our time. The improvement of the environmental performance of products and facilities, as well as investigating novel concepts such as electrification and hydrogen must be at the heart of EU decision-makers and industry’s agenda. That’s why the support from the Clean Sky programme is so valuable.

3.      Industry 4.0: Invest in new digital technologies 

Industry 4.0 will transform all sectors of the European industry. New digital technologies will transform how aircraft are developed, manufactured, flown, powered, serviced and maintained. The EU must deploy the necessary resources to assist its businesses in profoundly transforming their industrial processes and mastering the management of data.

4.      Invest in people

We need an additional EU-wide approach for inclusive and quality education, as well as training programmes to match the evolution of jobs, skills, and new ways of working. A social dialogue at EU level for the sector helps to bring stakeholders together. Strong digital literacy, cross-functional performance, fast adaptability to transformation, and preserving traditional craftsmanship and conventional engineering disciplines should be at the core of discussions.

5.      More investment in research and innovation 

Catalyse smart investment in research and development, and deploy new technology-based solutions in the aerospace and defence sector is more than necessary to maintain and reinforce Europe as a centre of innovation for decades to come and achieve the “green revolution” it is aiming for. Bridging the gap between civil and military spheres by embracing dual-use technologies is a guarantee for faster innovation. European programmes have proven effective and valid – they should be strengthened further.

6.     Towards a Single European Sky

In addition, the Single European Sky initiative needs to be accelerated to reform the fragmented European air traffic system. This paves the way for a Digital European Sky. The adaptation of the current European airspace network is a crucial part. With the number of air passengers set to double over the next fifteen years, European airports urgently require a single European system of capacity, efficiency, and sustainability.

7.      Advocating for fair and balanced trade

In a multipolar world, with an ever-evolving competitive landscape, a political Europe that is confident and present on the world stage has an essential role to play in supporting its industry, and in creating a more stable and successful business environment worldwide. While the EU should defend free trade, a European proactive movement in countering and responding to third countries’ distortive measures cannot be neglected. Reinforcing the European excellence on third markets via intricate economic diplomacy and promoting European standards at international level for the sector should also be part of the EU’s agenda in levelling the playing field.

8.      Embarking on the New Space race

Autonomous European access to space should be secured and Europe should embrace European-made space solutions. Sustaining and improving the EU space flagship programmes Galileo/EGNOS and Copernicus, and developing new programmes in fields such as space situational awareness and secured telecommunications should also be high on the agenda.

9.      Flagship programmes for a European defence

Three main programmes have strengthened the European defence. The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Industrial Development Programme (EDIDP) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) are playing a crucial role in enhancing European defence capabilities. The EU should go further in supporting a fragmented European industrial base prone to duplication. Increased integration of European defence ambitions by boosting defence spending and collaborative EU defence initiatives will provide for the economies of scale and synergy effects necessary to provide the highest level of security for European citizens. 

10.      Defending Europe online and offline

Today, new threats transcend borders and go beyond classical warfare. The EU must create a strong cybersecurity framework to secure Europe against cyberattacks but also increase overall European competitiveness.

The aerospace and defence industry’s future will be shaped by decisions taken today and affect Europe’s citizens tomorrow. Europe needs to take on these challenges to thrive. Without close cooperation, the future of Europe’s security and innovative competitivity is at stake. Now is the time to take bold actions for a safer, wealthier and better Europe tomorrow.

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