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Aerospace companies still set to invest in ‘green opportunities’

10 September 2020

Creating a greener aerospace sector is key to the industry bouncing back from Covid-19, according to new research.

The second part of Protolabs’ Horizon Shift report, which involved aerospace business leaders from across Europe, reveals that more than three quarters of firms (77%) expect environmental credibility to become a key differentiator moving forward, whilst 72% indicate that new materials will be the driving force in lowering emissions and making flying cleaner.

65% believe investment in innovation that reduces emissions should continue despite the pandemic, with 42% now transforming their supply chains as part of the innovation drive to cut down CO2 output.

Senior executives from Composite Technology Centre, Schiebel Group and Tecnam were among senior leaders recently interviewed to understand how this critically important market was looking to recover from the far-reaching impact of Covid-19. 

The latest survey, which was conducted as a follow-up to an initial report of 325 executives taken in February and March, presents a unique insight into the sector, particularly in regard to what has changed as a result of the pandemic.

In addition to environmental improvements, companies are also looking for Government support and stimulus packages to help them create new revenue streams, embed innovation in the supply chain and bring new products to market quickly.

39% believe that there needs to be more immediate investment in infrastructure, whilst 33% are calling on more supportive fiscal policy, such as tax breaks or R&D grants.

“The two crises of climate change and the Covid-19 lockdowns are changing the face of the aerospace industry,” explained Bjoern Klaas, Vice President and Managing Director of Protolabs Europe.

“New types of aircraft, business models and supply chains will emerge. Survival is not going to be about a fast transition, but about building up resilience for the long-term and, part of that, is producing the next generation of aircraft: improved aerodynamics, lighter, more fuel-efficient and less polluting.” 

He continued: “Our latest Horizon Shift report brings this clearly into view. 77% of companies feel environmental performance will be a key differentiator, a 9%-point increase from when we asked the same question in our initial survey just before the lockdowns.

“91% of business leaders admit that cutting CO2 is having some form of impact on how they run their companies and, the good news for the European aerospace sector, is that it appears they’ve decided to embrace the pressure by transforming supply chains and developing new technologies and materials.”

“Earlier this year, Airbus reconfirmed its commitment to decarbonisation and leading the development of a more sustainable global aerospace industry – this is a commitment that will filter through its supply chain.”

The Horizon Shift report delves into challenges facing the supply chain and what operational improvements the sector is taking to overcome these. 

Top of the list of concerns for companies over the next two years was environmental compliance, followed by inflexibility/long supply chain delays (69%) and length of certification process (60%). Volatility in raw material costs and availability (57%) was a key talking point.

The research found that firms expect to move from using advanced manufacturing techniques in order to enhance productivity and output, to using them to create a more flexible product range (63%) and deliver parts/aircraft quicker (58%).

3D printing’s transformation from a prototyping technology into a full production technology was also discussed in the Protolabs report. Through using the technology, companies talked of processing materials at a greater speed, with less waste, and even compressing multiple components into a single lighter 3D printed part. 

Bjoern concluded: “Companies that are experiencing financial pressures in the aftermath of Covid-19 are now focusing on quick wins and speed to market. One way to plan ahead is to create additional revenue streams, but this requires supply chain optimisation and increased speed to market.

“In the longer-term, our survey shows that they will look to hire talent, implement new technologies, use new materials and expand their manufacturing capabilities. They might see some unexpected positive outcomes from the crisis: flexibility from upgraded manufacturing supply chains and processes giving the ability to cater to consumer and social pressures with more environmentally friendly aircraft.” 

For further information or download the second part of the Horizons Shift report, please visit

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