You are leading a blinkered life if you don’t think that we live in a time of great change.
Aerospace is no exception.
When I started at Airbus in 1998, the vast majority of design work happened in-house. Or more simply: The lion’s share of the work was done by the employees of the Airbus partners. (It wasn’t a single company in those days, rather a consortium of partner companies.)
The employees all worked on the partners’ premises in four countries (France, Germany, the UK and Spain), and roughly ten locations within those countries.
Airbus had suppliers as well. Mostly smaller companies, in those same countries.
There were exceptions to this rule. The engines, for example, might be designed and made in USA, depending on which engine had been selected for the aircraft in question.
The driver for this approach was both political and economic.
Aerospace is historically a high-value-added industry, and its products high-value-added products. Such industries drove economic growth, and were excellent tax revenue sources for governments.
Post-World-War-II Europe watched the USA gradually assume dominance in both military and commercial aerospace.
Recognizing that their previously fragmented approach (each European country protecting their own industries) was harming their collective potential, they joined forces.
Hesitantly, mistrustfully, and never without plenty of bickering . . . . . . but they joined forces. Airbus, and eventually EADS, were the results.
The political imperative was simple:
Keep aerospace in Europe. Keep the cash cow in Europe. We’ve got to protect Eurpean pride. We’ve got to protect our governments’ tax bases, to maintain our expensive social programmes, and to continue to protect our European values.
In the USA, it was similar:
Buy Boeing. Buy American. Keep the USA dominant in aerospace. Protect American pride. And stay ahead of those pesky Russians! (China wasn’t yet a significant worry.)
So western nations invested heavily in aerospace innovation, and saw to it that the resulting industrial activity was very much concentrated at home, in the “developed” countries of the USA, France, UK, Germany, Spain, Canada, etc.
The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have long had aerospace activity, but could not or would not compete effectively, for reasons that are outside the scope of this article.
What a difference.
We’ll go into that in the next post, but here’s a hint:
In a world distinguished by insiders and outsiders, the outsiders are becoming the insiders. And the insiders . . . . . are slowly and unwittingly becoming the outsiders.