The European Aerospace Invention Community

The European aerospace industry has, as described above, a long history with significant changes on the industry and the technology side as well as on the demand side. The following sections analyze, with a focus on innovation and knowledge-based perspective, the developments in the R&D collaboration network with respect to three levels in the time range from 1987 to 2013. Section 3.1 broaches the issue on the technology and the thematic developments as well as on the underlying knowledge bases within the funded Framework Programs (FPs). Section 3.2 centers the actors and their role in the established networks and gives a first impression of how the networks develop over the mentioned time range.

Thematic Developments and Knowledge Bases Within EU FP-Projects

The technology embedded in the industry is the key factor and driving force for development. We inspected all projects (2013 in total) dedicated to the aerospace sector and classified each of them to one or more of 25 thematic categories. Those

Table 2 Thematic categories


Thematic explanation


Aerodynamic, flows and aero thermic


Alloys and coatings, glazed materials and paints


(Technical) ceramic and glasses


Chemical processing (incl. petrochemicals)


Composite materials


Electric and electronic (incl. cables and conductors)


Fuel cells, batteries, liquid hydrogen, cathodes and membranes


Forming, moulding, winding, sintering and grinding


Rare-earth materials (e.g. lithium)


Lasers, sensors and optics


Metals (steel, aluminum, copper, titanium,...)


Mining (incl. all auxiliaries)


Other materials (e.g. rubber, leather, resins, wood, concrete, biomaterial,...)


Optimizing manufacturing processes, production and products (incl. cost reduction)




Plastics and polymers


Recycling and environmentally friendly product improvements and processes


Robotic systems, e.g. for production, inspection, ...


Quality and safety systems (incl. repair systems, non-destructive detection, maintenance, etc.)


Sawing and cutting


Satellites and space topics


Simulation, numerical models, computer-aided systems, informatics




(technical) textiles


Welding, soldering, brazing

categories are developed based on International Patent Classes (IPCs) and the German DIN-Norm (Table 2).[1] In Fig. 1 the development of the topics over time is depicted as a percentage in each FP, i.e. every point indicates what fraction of the projects within a time period can be allocated to the different categories. Conspicuous is that in early FPs a more uniform distribution over the categories appeared. With FP4 four categories developed to an outstanding position until FP7: SAT (satellite and space topics), RSY (quality and safety systems, non-destructive detection and repair systems, maintenance and their facilities), OMP (optimization of manufacturing processes and supply chains, existing product improvements) and SIM (simulation, numerical models, computer-aided systems, e.g. for air traffic management or aerodynamic application). All other categories show a shrinking

Thematic development of EU-funded aerospace R&D projects

Fig. 1 Thematic development of EU-funded aerospace R&D projects

share within the FPs. Categories ranging between 5 and 15 % application over the FPs are the following: AER (aerodynamics and flow streams), ELE (electric and electronics (including cables and conductors), electromagnetics and magnetics), LSO (lasers, sensors and optics), REC (recycling and pollution avoidance mechanisms) and OMA (other materials: rubber, leather, resins, wood, etc.).

Although we tried to find categories that are widely application independent, so as to provide us with the information on what knowledge background is needed and used, the development of the categories depends upon what is funded and what topics underlie the projects. Additionally, not all categories are independent, which explains, e.g., the rise of RSY together with SAT, relating to earth observation with the help of satellites. Taking FP2 and FP3 as an example, besides the always prominent topics of RSY, OMP and LSO, especially metals and composite materials are especially in focus, corresponding to the time when composite materials started to grow in manufacturers’ attempts to develop lighter aircraft. The effort to reduce weight is one of the critical factors in aircraft engineering, as it directly influences the range and fuel consumption (Begemann 2008). Since the emergence of fiber-reinforced composite materials in the 1960s in space application, aircraft manufacturers increasingly used such composite materials. Until the mid-1990s the amount was not higher than 10 % of the total aircraft weight and only for non-weight bearing parts (ECORYS 2009, p. 181). This changed with the launch of the Boeing 787 in the year 2011. This aircraft has an approximated amount of 50 % of carbon fiber reinforced materials by total weight. The same holds for the Airbus A350, which was launched in 2014. So, we can see a nearly 20 year gap between research and development time and the industrial application in the Framework Programmes and an overall gap of more than 60 years from the materials application in space and its full application in civil aircrafts. In FP4, OMP and RSY are the top-ranked categories, since the overall strategic goal for aerospace of the European Commission in FP4 was the management of more efficient, safer and more environmentally friendly transport systems. The latter can be seen in that REC was ranked for the first time in the top ten categories.

In FP5 the general goals of FP4 persisted, again with a strong focus on efficiency and optimization (reducing aircraft procurement costs, improve their efficiency and performance)—again OMP and RSY are the top-ranked topics. Additionally more specific goals went into the focus: First, reducing aircraft impact on noise and climate change, consistent with the increase of AER and REC.[2] Second, improving aircraft operational capability, which can be attributed to the increased number of projects dedicated to computer-aided systems (SIM). Notable is that, in general, material topics decreased over time. In FP6, a recognizable space category (SAT) emerged. This can be related to the goal to develop systems, equipment and tools for the Galileo project, and stimulate the evolution of satellite-based information services by sensors (LSO) and by data and information models (SIM). Another focus was on satellite telecommunications, which additionally increased the SAT category. On the aeronautic side again safety and security (RSY), reducing costs (OMP), and improving environmental impact with regard to emissions (REC) and noise (AER and OMP) are the most prominent goals. For FP7 the aerospace strategy of the European Commission focused on reduction of emissions and alternative fuels (REC), air traffic management (SIM), safety and security (RSY) and efficient aircraft production (OMP). Again, space topics as part of FP6 are most prominent. That optimization topics increased so drastically (from the middle 1990s) can be attributed to the industry influence, since at that time the focus shifted from pure innovation to affordability, i.e. better, cheaper and faster production to fulfill the increased orders. At that time, aircraft manufacturers were adopting lean principles from the automotive industry to satisfy the pressure to remain profitable.

In general, the European aerospace industry is a multi-technology industry. The knowledge underlying the research and development is extremely broad, ranging from materials and chemical processes to computer simulation tools, lasers and sensors. Thus, inter-industry knowledge spillovers are feasible within several relevant categories. Based on a search word analysis within our data we identified different possibilities of other industry application. We defined search word families for 12 neighboring industries (compare Table 3).

Table 3 Search word families of neighboring industries

Industry search word families


Search words


Search words


Automotive, vehicle, car


Medicine, medical, implant


Construction, concrete, building, road


Mining, ore


Electric, electronic


Railway, locomotive, train


Energy, power generation, solar


Ship, shipbuilding, naval


Food, drink, meal, grocery


Textile, shoe, leather, clothing, wool


Laser, sensor


Wood, paper, furniture

The resulting search strings are applied to the information incorporated within each project’s title and objectives and checked individually for plausibility. The result can be seen in Fig. 2. Again the development is dependent on the projects; leading to FP2 and FP3 having more projects with possible inter-industry application. Due to the relevance for the aerospace sector, the electric/electronic-industry, the laser- and sensor industry and the energy industry seem to have the highest transfer potential. Further, the automotive and textile industries seem to have proximities in knowledge to the aerospace industry. Whereby the possible connections to the automotive and textile industries are declining in the recent FPs, the electric/electronic industry relevance increased in the later FPs.

In Figs. 3 and 4, we visualize how the thematic categories are geographically located, restricting attention to the ten thematic categories most frequently occurring in projects over all FPs. We investigate thematic specialization at the level of NUTS2 regions.17 For selected regions, we show their thematic specialization based on the frequency of occurrence of the categories in projects taken part in by organizations from the regions. To account for the varying overall occurrence of thematic categories, we show the difference of the regional values from the European average, i.e., the mean over all regions for the respective thematic category.

In Fig. 3, we show the thematic specialization of the ten regions producing the most project participations during the course of the FPs. Therefore, when focusing on the greater amplitudes, we see that several regions have effectively no specialization, with all thematic categories differing little from the European average. As regional specialization is represented through high occurrence rates in one or more thematic categories, we can see that those very active regions are generally close to the European average in nearly all thematic categories. Nevertheless in some regions certain focal knowledge specializations are visible. FR62 (the NUTS2- region where Toulouse is located) is strong in OMP, SIM and ELE, DE21 (Munich) in AER, UKK1 (Bristol) in RSY, SIM and AER, ITC1 (Turin) in OMP, UKI1 Little difference can be observed between the knowledge specialization patterns between the European level and the level of countries, especially between the major aerospace countries (most of them parts of EADS). This may be expected, since these countries constitute the majority of the European aerospace industry as the aggregate of their historically independent national industries.

Inter-industry application potential of EU-funded aerospace knowledge

Fig. 2 Inter-industry application potential of EU-funded aerospace knowledge

Thematic specialization pattern of the top-ten European aerospace regions

Fig. 3 Thematic specialization pattern of the top-ten European aerospace regions

Thematic specialization pattern of further important European aerospace regions

Fig. 4 Thematic specialization pattern of further important European aerospace regions

(London) in REC and ITF3 (Napoli) in OMP, RSY and AER. As these regions constitute the centers of the European aerospace industry, it is reasonable that (with the shown exceptions) the values are rather low—these regions play a key role in defining the European average.

In Fig. 4, we show five regions that are prominent in some, but not all, of the FPs. In general, these regions are more specialized than the top-ten regions, with greater differences from the European average than those regions considered above. Noticeable values can be observed in SE23 (West Sweden), which is strong in OMP, AER and REC; NL32 (Noord-Holland), strong in RSY, SIM and AER; and DE11 (Stuttgart), strong in MET. The regions IE02 (Southern and Eastern Ireland) and PT17 (Lisbon) are nearly similar to the European average, i.e. compared to the European average they show no real specialization of their knowledge fields.

In addition to the detailed inspection of thematic categories, there is a need to identify the type of underlying knowledge, i.e. the differentiation between engineering and scientific knowledge.[3] The usage of either scientific or engineering

FP participation and patent activity in European regions

Fig. 5 FP participation and patent activity in European regions

knowledge might depend on the technological field and how this separation (if clearly possible at all) develops over time can be seen by the network participations of the actors to which the different kinds of knowledge may be allocated.[4]

An indication on the innovative output within regions is presented in Fig. 5, based on patent data. We used patent data[5] to show how the project participation rate is related to the invention output. We used NUTS2 regions as base—the scatterplot shows the number of FP-participations (over all FPs) in relation to the number of patent applications in that region. For the sake of simplicity we only used IPC B64 which is dedicated to “aircraft, aviation and cosmonautics” patents. There is a positive relationship between FP-participation and patent activity. The area where no or only some patents within IPC 64 are applied might be the organizations that are by their nature not active in the aerospace industry, but participated due to related topics, which can be used in other industries and branches.

  • [1] We do not make use of the standardized subject indices from CORDIS—they provide a broadcategorization of all FP projects, but are not specific enough for categorizing the aerospaceprojects.
  • [2] The REC efforts might not be purely driven by the environmental conscience of the aerospaceindustry, but driven more by underlying costs. The reduction of fuel consumption exhausted by theengines is the opposite trend to cover the increased fuel prices and demand driven on the side of theairlines.
  • [3] Vincenti (1990) takes a look into Rosenberg’s “black box” (Rosenberg 1982) and analyzesnumerous kinds of complex knowledge levels that engineers in the aeronautical industry apply anduse during the design process. He treats science and technology as separate spheres of knowledgethat nevertheless mutually influence each other. Concerning the level of knowledge, Vincenti(1990, p. 226) states that engineers use knowledge primarily to design, produce, and operateartifacts (i.e. they create artifacts), while scientists use knowledge primarily to generate newknowledge (and as Pitt (2001, p. 22) states: scientists aims are to explain artifacts). Emergingfeedback processes in science are due to scientists’ engagement in open-ended, cumulative queststo understand observable phenomena. Vincenti (1990, p. 8) suggests that normal design is evolvingin an incremental fashion and radical changes can be seen as revolutionary.
  • [4] This exceeds the purpose of this chapter, but might be a fruitful field for further research.
  • [5] For the general limitation of patent data usage and patents as strategic element see Granstrand(2010). Further Hollanders et al. (2008, p. 22ff.) discuss the role of patents in the aerospaceindustry, whereby the main argument states that patent are of minor importance since in theaerospace industry secrecy is the main method to protect knowledge. Nevertheless we suppose thatthis only (if at all) is correct for the two OEMs in the past. As now weights are changing and newcompetitors have emerged, patent usage and relevance will increase in the future. Begemann(2008) discusses the role of patents in the aerospace industry in a historical view, beginning withthe Wright brothers and continuing to the current situation between Boeing and Airbus.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >