Seville wants to fly higher with its aerospace industry

“Seville is an aerospace city, it is a benchmark”. It is not a slogan of the City Council, but an affirmation repeated by the majority of the more than 1,200 participants who gathered at the IV Aerospace and Defense Meetings, which took place between June 7 and 9 in the Seville capital and which brought together more than 300 companies from the aeronautical industry sector. After two years of crisis due to the pandemic, companies that are dedicated to the aerospace field see new horizons in the diversification of markets and both the capital and the province, which concentrates 70% of the Andalusian aeronautical fabric, seek to consolidate themselves as European mainstay. In this effort, the achievement of the headquarters of the Space Agency of Spain, would be a boost.

The Sevillian aeronautical tradition is centuries old. It started in 1920 with the Tablada air base and in this century it has become one of the five main hubs aeronautics of Europe. Andalusia is the second largest region in this industry in Spain, after Madrid, and the country’s first in terms of exports, according to data from the Andalucía Aerospace business park, the only aerospace cluster in Spain.

The annual turnover of the territory exceeds 2,000 million euros, which represents 1.41% of the Andalusian GDP. Each year it exports some 2,500 million, a figure comparable to that of olive oil, the star product of the region, according to the Andalusian public agency for Foreign Promotion (Extenda), 6.3% of the total weight of Andalusian exports. The 141 aeronautical companies in the region, of which 107 are based in Seville, generate 12,177 jobs.

Some data that, as confirmed by Juan Román, manager of Andalucía Aerospace, “demonstrates that the aerospace sector is strategic in a province and a community with little industry”. “We are showing that we have innovative and professional companies prepared and it is the best guarantee to test our capabilities and attract the industry and driving companies to Seville,” he says.

One of these tractor companies and on which 84% of the turnover of the auxiliary companies depends is Airbus. A giant that has two plants in the province of Seville – San Pablo and Tablada – fundamentally dedicated to military transport aircraft. The A400M and the C295 are assembled there. The fact that the defense area was declared an essential activity during the pandemic did not affect the workload – which was not suspended, although it did slow down – nor the 1,800 workers employed in its two facilities, unlike the plants Cadiz, dedicated to commercial aircraft, where there are still some workers in ERTE.

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“We are in a moment of good expectations that can be consolidated with the aerospace Perte and the European funds linked to the Green Deal. But the recovery of the sector must translate into a recovery of qualified jobs”, warns Alfonso Mora, head of CC OO at the Airbus plant in Tablada. The increase in defense budgets contributes to this optimism, although, for the moment, it has not translated into new orders, emphasizes Manuel Ponce, deputy secretary of the Federation of Industry, Construction and Agriculture of UGT Andalusia.

The dependence on the French giant is a “blessed problem”, as Román points out, and although the companies are signing contracts with other constructors such as Boeing or Bombardier, finding a return comparable to that of Airbus “would be complex”, acknowledges Mora. The solution lies in diversifying towards the aerospace and advanced air mobility sectors, as was concluded at the last international meeting in Seville. “There is a segment with a very specific niche and in which small and medium-sized companies have great opportunities,” says Román.

The future is in space

In this commitment, in Andalusia, and in Seville in particular, both the private sector and the regional and municipal administrations go hand in hand. The Board approved on March 16, with the support of companies and social organizations, the Aerospace Strategy of Andalusia 2021-2027, a pioneering instrument in Spain to promote the shift towards a new production model based on innovation and knowledge , with an investment of 573 million, of which 293 will be public funds, and 279, private contribution.

“In space there is a great opportunity, there is a lot of technology to develop and Seville is a benchmark, with great diversity and richness in types of industries, but we do not receive the same funding as France or Germany,” says María Ángeles Martín Prats, professor of Avionics of the Faculty of Aeronautical Engineering of the University of Seville and president and founder of Skylife Engineering, a company specialized in the design, development and manufacture of embedded systems and digitization tools. “The important thing here is agility in management and that the funds, also the European ones, really reach the SMEs that are the ones that generate employment,” he says about the Government’s Aerospace Perte, endowed with 4,533 million, and the rest of items European.

His company suffered during the pandemic, but it has been one of the few that, instead of taking workers out of the ERTE, has hired more professionals. “The crisis came from before, Boeing had already canceled contracts and we decided to diversify into other sectors such as transportation or health, which also need advanced applications,” he explains. His company in these years has increased to 47 workers.

Assembly of an A-400M in Seville.
Assembly of an A-400M in Seville.Julian Rojas

The synergy between the university and the Seville aeronautical business fabric is almost perfect and is another of the elements on which both the private and public sectors rely to try to attract the headquarters of the Spanish Space Agency to Seville, one of the few countries that do not have this entity. “There are no fissures, there is absolute unanimity,” says the mayor of the city, Antonio Muñoz, one of the main promoters of the Sevillian candidacy.

The location in Seville of the Space Agency would be one more step towards the consolidation of the turn from an aeronautical industry to an aerospace one. “There is an ecosystem, there is a history and a business park. We do not want the headquarters to attract officials, but to promote innovation, which strengthens the sector and attracts more business”, he abounds. Muñoz wants to turn the capital into an urban laboratory for the aerospace industry in his effort to provide a polyhedral vision of the city, beyond tourism.

Because the province of Seville is not just agriculture or tourism and it is not an industrial desert either. The fact that most of the SMEs that revolve around the aeronautical sector have recovered their projects and their client portfolio after the pandemic, as evidenced in the international congress, shows, as Román emphasizes, “that the sector is consolidated” and that has the ambition to be a spearhead in the aerospace field. Airbus has chosen Seville to develop the technology for less polluting and silent military aircraft —in line with the future strategies of aircraft manufacturers—, a project in which Skylife is also embarked, a clear sign that the Sevillian aerospace muscle is fit.

Lack of qualified professionals

The fact of being at an intermediate point between university education and the company allows María Ángeles Martín Prats, researcher and professor of Avionics at the University of Seville and founder of Skylife Engineering, to observe first-hand the shortcomings between what the sector demands aerospace and degree curriculum. “In the technological field, everything goes very fast and there are demands that are not taught at the university,” she says. A reflection that she shares with Juan Román, manager of the Andalucía Aerospace business park, who warns of the high competition for qualified professionals in this sector. Román advocates not only for greater specialization in the faculties, but also in Vocational Training.

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