Region Plugged Into Global Networks
There is specific hubbing via Airbus linkages to France, UK or Spain. The relations within the group are best epitomised by the co-opetition; particularly with relation to Toulouse Aviation a major partner, and also, a larger one. (CR1) ‘There is some jealousy, some co-operation, joint division of tasks and work’. So, hubbing happens via Airbus first-tier (direct co-operating) and second-tier (indirectly) partners. A clear division of labour with simultaneous co-operation between the two sides has been established over the last decades (Buxbaum-Conradi, 2018).
(CC9) ‘As you have globally just a few aviation hubs, they are more or less somehow already together. So, there is, in fact, already international collaboration existing. If we are talking about digital transformation and more connected supply chains then, of course, digital transformation is a tool of more international openness’.
Thanks to Airbus, the whole region is ‘plugged’ into GVCs/GPN. Nevertheless, regional production networks are also embedded in broader systems of exchange relations that span clusters and go beyond the governance structures that are used to explain inter-firm linkages in global value chains (Bathelt & Li, 2014). Particularly impressive is the nature of these external relations that link different places and the knowledge circulation among them.
Buxbaum-Conradi (2018) stresses that Airbus-induced codification and the transformation of knowledge infrastructure during the modular transition affect the dynamics of GPN and the inter-relations between global and local developments. The case of Airbus modernisation and the consequences it has had for HAv, best epitomise how transformations, in the knowledge infrastructure of a production system, affect knowledge and production relations in a local industiy cluster. HAv have experienced these processes of dis- and re-embedding of production and knowledge relations, as well as tensions and new challenges for local suppliers.
As argued by Buxbaum-Conradi (2018), cluster policies have overemphasised the importance of local relations, whereas too little attention has been paid to better nesting within global knowledge relations. These developments have revealed that experience and know-how accumulated locally over decades become simply obsolete, due to more flexible strategy of sourcing engineering services. Digitalisation is also a possibility with which to advance international expansion. New business ideas and strategies come up, and they force companies to look internationally to connect with the outside world.
SMEs Liability of Unconnectedness and Emancipation
The cluster role in the processes of internationalisation cannot be over-estimated, given the dominance of SMEs suffering the liability of unconnectedness. Participation in international projects, thanks to the door-opening by HAv managers, also leads to small companies’ emancipation vis-a-vis other large players. It makes them more immune and reduces their over-dependence. Airbus dominates all the linkages. Nevertheless, there is a tendency that suppliers, once they are internationalised, become more empowered and emancipated. Once they become attractive for other companies (like Boeing), the perception and attitude of Airbus will change as well, so it cannot dictate and dominate the relationship that easily. So, the internationalising makes firms—n-trier suppliers—more attractive, more equal; reducing the members’ asymmetry.
Internationalisation efforts are essential from the perspective of SMEs, which lack then own resources and capabilities to venture abroad; so, it is relevant to provide them with insight about the foreign market and streamline the access to distant contractors. However, this happens slowly, and it is hard to see the results, to evaluate the effects of such activities. (COl) ‘International activities improve the external visibility and improve publicity and, in fact, are important, but how they translate into actual internationalisation of cluster members remains unknown and is tough to be measured’. (СЕЗ) ‘I have observed these activities for some time, and I think for some entities, located here in Hamburg, it is a quite interesting development, because of the danger of the consequences of relying so much on Airbus’. Intensive relations with one large company, in that case, SMEs around Airbus, bring the risk of over-dependency. Hubbing, the expansion of international relations, can in this respect, be seen as risk reduction, diversification which leads to more immune SMEs and more resilient to possible negative shock resulting from over-dependency. It opens for the SMEs new avenues, other customers which they can link to, or other aviation clusters. It also implies that many foreign delegations visit Hamburg. (CC5) ‘HAv can open markets for SMEs’.
However, companies seeking to develop international ties often face resource constraints. Many small firms acknowledge the internationalisation efforts by HAv. (CC12) ‘We are looking forward to having more internationalisation’. Nevertheless, they often do not have the resources to frilly exploit available opportunities. They are under-staffed and cannot dedicate more time and energy to get engaged.
Transnational co-operation is rather beneficial, but each firm must decide and check if this fits into its strategy. Such an approach suggests a need for a firm-level granular perspective. (CC6) ‘Benefits are conditional on which role you play’. Small finns admit that building relationships, thanks to HAv internationalisation efforts, is like the fust step to find out more and (CC3) ‘pave the ground for future relations, when we are bigger’, hi general, even if not right now up and running, these activities create the basis for future relations.
(CC1) ‘If we had been interested, we could have participated. However, so far, we have not benefitted much, we simply did not need to. We are in the early stage of co-operation with some foreign companies; more at the technology development/research stage. Later, when it comes to marketing, commercialisation, perhaps, we will use this opportunity’.
Firms agree these are often only first steps, but some commercial co-operation might emerge out of these meetings, discussions and getting to know each other.
There are, however, also sceptical voices raised. (CC8) T am not sure if this activity will benefit SMEs. Many operate very locally. These are local service providers. It is extremely difficult to access other markets, which are closed, have their' own set-up of firms, suppliers’.
HAv members admit that the whole aerospace community is getting much more open and international. (CC7) ‘If I think back 20 years ago, it was merely Airbus. When I look at the market light now, we are working with Chinese firms and other players’.