Dr. Ahlers, the Baden-Württemberg aerospace forum, LR BW, was founded in 2005. What was the underlying motivation for this?
Companies involved in the aerospace industry were looking for an efficient way to represent their interests to the regional government. They also needed a forum for exchanging information and experiences. Setting up the forum, which is a registered association, allowed us to give the sector an identity. Also, our close ties with the LVI, the Baden-Württemberg industry association, made it possible to participate in committees and tap into the LVI network. In this way, we can go through several channels to advance aerospace technology interests, which transcend many areas.
Were there specific goals when the industry network was set up?
One major goal from the outset was to foster close ties between industry and academia. The foundations for this were laid by a collaboration agreement with the department of Aerospace Engineering and Geodesy at the University of Stuttgart, and the join ing of the forum of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Stuttgart and Lampoldshausen and the Steinbeis Foundation. In the meantime, several Fraunhofer Institutes and universities have also joined the forum. Even before people started talking about business clusters, the LR BW forum was a genuine network.
What are the defining features of the aerospace industry?
Compared to the automotive industry, aerospace is a relatively small sector and although it’s an international business, the key players know each other. Despite competitive pressures, it feels like a big family. Aerospace is always undergoing change and looking for more innovations. Typical of this is the link between different technologies. Suppliers use skills acquired in the automotive industry, textiles, medical engineering, ICT and machine construction, and apply this knowledge to new areas. Insights gained in different sectors flow into the development and production of new aeroplanes or satellites, or work their way back into these areas. This also leads to new applications – such as the use of geodata from satellite systems in combination with sensor systems in agricultural equipment to significantly boost efficiency. Another aspect is the strong demand for qualified professionals. There’s been sharp growth in recent years, resulting in a massive requirement for specialists.
Which technologies and applications will become more important in aerospace in the future?
Aerospace is amazingly multifaceted. The same applies to the field’s trends. One major theme is the reduction of CO2 emissions; aeroplanes need to become lighter and more efficient. We like to talk about “greener aircraft”. There’ll be more use of lightweight materials. In a similar way to the automotive industry, electric motors are an issue. One fascinating development is unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The launch of Galileo, the European satellite navigation system, will lead to a host of new applications and improve existing systems. Examples I could point to are agriculture and forestry, measurement systems, disaster relief or traffic guidance systems. Climate change has pushed aerospace more to the fore – climate and environmental satellites will be in especially strong demand. You mentioned the lack of specialists.
What can companies in Baden- Württemberg do to counteract this?
There’s no ready-made solution. As an association, we try to foster up-and-coming talent. In early October, Germany’s first space travel conference took place in Stuttgart under the theme “The Mission of the Future: From Baden-Württemberg into Space”. Working together with the forum’s members, we wanted to stage an appealing series of workshops to engender enthusiasm for aerospace topics among schoolgoers. In November, we also founded an aerospace academy with Steinbeis University Berlin on the "Flugfeld Böblingen/Sindelfingen" – the German Aerospace Academy (ASA). The aim is to provide tailored continuous professional development for the industry.