Global Collaboration for Aerospace Companies is Result of Market, Brings Advantages Written 28 July 2015
Panelists: Moderator James G. Maser, Pratt & Whitney; Jean-Paul Ebanga, CFM International; Leslie J. Kovacs, United Launch Alliance; Richard “Ric” Parker, Rolls-Royce; Marc Vales, Airbus Safran Launchers; Bernard Zimmerman, Pratt & Whitney
By Hannah Godofsky, AIAA Communications
The global collaboration panel at the 2015 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum, moderated by James G. Maser, vice president of strategy, marketing and business development with Pratt & Whitney, asked representatives from global aviation and space industry companies to discuss their experiences in international collaborations or joint partnerships.
Marc Vales, head of future programs with Airbus Safran Launchers, said Airbus and Safran collaborated to better align with the newly competitive nature of the commercial space launch industry. It was a response to market demand, he said, elaborating that it is not easy to fund space ventures without international partners.
Vales said budgets are decreasing throughout Europe and that it is not possible for all European countries to maintain their previous levels of support for space ventures. It takes a more efficient venture with a supply chain spread to provide some needed agility, he said.
“Collaboration is essential in the aero engine industry. Perversely, so is competition,” said Richard “Ric” Parker, director of research and technology with Rolls-Royce. He said Rolls-Royce has collaborated with nearly every major manufacturer of aircraft engines to power products as diverse as the Concorde supersonic airliner, military aircraft, small civilian vehicles and helicopters.
“New competitors are just new partners you haven’t yet figured out how to work with,” Parker said.
Parker stressed that Rolls-Royce is able to create an engine without collaboration but that “we must compete as if there is no collaboration and collaborate as if there is no competition.”
Bernard Zimmerman, vice president of group strategy and development with Pratt & Whitney, said his company pursues collaboration to produce the most high-quality engines possible. “Each of the partners develops and manufactures a piece of the engine,” he said. “This gives us what we call ‘best-of-the-best’ technology.”
Zimmerman highlighted other benefits of collaboration, including access to government funding and university partnerships, and stressed that collaboration has led to the safest possible aircraft engines.
“The best part about being partners is that it makes us all better,” he said, explaining that companies can be friends, competitors or suppliers, but ultimately, they’re all colleagues.
Jean-Paul Ebanga, president and CEO of CFM International, talked about the competitive advantage that a close relationship between aerospace and government can represent. He said France and Snecma had a strong alignment, but GE Aviation could not count on the same level of support from the U.S. He characterized the U.S. government’s reaction toward technology sharing as being fearful.
“The French alignment between the government and the private sector was key,” he said. “… having a strong alignment between the government and the private sector can be a decisive factor.”
Leslie Kovacs, director of Washington operations for United Launch Alliance, a joint partnership between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., explained that the launch market was not large enough to support the redundant capabilities provided by separate launches from the two partners. The U.S. Air Force asked them to consider merging that part of the space business.
All was going well, Kovacs said, and a stable business that has made nearly a hundred successful launches was created. The Russian invasion of Crimea, however, created a serious disruption to the supply chain that had made ULA so successful. ULA had been using an RD-180 engine designed by Russian engineers, and the cost to build that same engine domestically, as the Pentagon requested, worked out to be $800 million.
“Unforeseen political forces are undermining the greatest launch vehicle in the United States,” Kovacs said, stressing that the fixed size of the national security launch market makes it a difficult business.