Interview of Bruno Sainjon, Chairman and CEO of ONERA and newly elected Chairman of EREA
Bruno Sainjon Chairman and CEO of ONERA and newly elected Chairman of EREA shares his views on the significance of long-term upstream research for Aeronautics and he assesses the perspectives for performing aeronautics-related upstream research within H2020 and FP9.
Q1: You have been elected to Chair EREA during a period where a lot are expected to happen in the European Scene, including the H2020 mid-term review and preparatory actions for the next framework programme. Which would you say are the main goals and priorities of EREA during this time?
To start with I wish to express my satisfaction of having been elected EREA Chairman for 2016-2017. I am deeply honored to chair the association of European Research Establishments in Aeronautics, which is the only association in the field of aviation gathering major European Research Establishments (REs).
Let me first shortly introduce EREA. EREA is an association founded at the start of the 90's at a time marked by various industrial groupings in the European aeronautics sector. To deal with this situation it became clear that a parallel initiative aiming at better coordinating the public R&TD efforts in the sector was essential. EREA provides independent advice, offers a system view and has expertise on every aspect of aviation. Furthermore EREA operates Europe's main infrastructures and guarantees a technological transfer by helping industry to get from TRL 2 to 6. EREA is a very valuable organisation at European level to promote and defend the common interests of the European research community in the field of aviation.
Regarding my priorities EREA will obviously continue to take care of the global interest of REs regarding collaborative Research and strategic Research infrastructures in the European Programmes.
This will be achieved by supporting and implementing actions related to long term research while complying with the evolving European Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) of ACARE.
This obviously includes a strong support to our Joint Research Initiative (JRI) in Aviation named Future Sky.
In parallel to this, I feel that there is a requirement of technological renewal for Security for Aviation in Europe in the coming decades, and consequently I proposed at the last EREA Board Members Meeting to orient EREA efforts towards a JRI on Security for Aviation. That's the reason why a priority of the EREA 2016-2017 Chairmanship period is to further deal with this topic. One result of this proactive action could be to position EREA on the "Aviation Security" area of activities and investigate technologies that could be included in H2020 and FP9.
Of course, as EREA Chair I will continuously promote the association on any occasions and strive to influence all important political actions on R&T in Aviation & Security in Europe (EC, EP and European Council). On the other hand EREA will pursue internal actions, external communication, as well as international relations towards other research actors, institutions and industry.
Q2: When it comes to Aviation, since the launching of Horizon 2020, we have been witnessing a clear shift of targets to ones of higher TRLs as, by setting the goal to come through research closer to products, it is more likely to retain or create new jobs in the short run. Do you agree with this approach and consequential shift?
It's true that the amount of basic research carried out by Academia and REs has been considerably reduced because of the decisions to focus work on demonstrators, meaning high Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). I believe it is well worth mentioning that the Member States Group in ACARE (Advisory Council for Aviation Research and innovation in Europe) expressed its regret that the Commission did not provide adequate funding for activities entailing lower TRLs. I fully share this view of ACARE, which was once again expressed at the ACARE General Assembly of June 2016.
In order to overcome the fact that bottom-up low TRL research is currently lagging behind, there is a need to ensure bottom-up low TRL research for the future, so as to bring in new ideas for the technological base of the European Industry. For this purpose EREA recently launched the Future Sky Initiative, aiming at preparing the over the next generation of aircraft and ATM (Air Traffic Management). The objective of this programme is to ensure technological development to the benefit of European society and industry, beyond the current SESAR and Clean Sky timescales.
In addition there is no doubt that the research at higher TRLs usually results in the creation of new jobs in the short term - which is obviously a key issue for the society - but lower TRL research and innovating technologies, which follow on from this, are essential to prepare the work and the employment for the next decades! To prepare the technology of tomorrow, a strong, coordinated and efficient research is needed, and the different steps of the Research and Innovation process have to be completed. The future of Europe in one of its areas of excellence is at stake!
Q3: What is the significance of long-term upstream research for Aeronautics and how do you assess the perspectives for performing aeronautics-related upstream research within H2020 and FP9? What should be the role of Research Establishments and Academia in this context?
According to the European Commission, in the H2020 Programme, fundamental research is to be performed in the frame of Pillar 1 dedicated to Excellence (ERC and MSCA instruments).
As for aeronautics related collaborative research, EREA believes that in order to cover research at low TRLs, the bottom-up low TRL research has to be integrated directly under the next Framework Programme or in the next Clean Sky in a similar way as collaborative research in FP7 or exploratory research in SESAR 2020 with a separate dedicated process in parallel to the original Clean Sky 1/2. Furthermore it should be noted that it is also extremely important to ensure the continuance of low TRL research on the long term to avoid gaps.
For the purpose of next Framework Programme (FP9), which is the main instrument to fund research in Europe and to build a European research area, EREA REs and Academia have to play a central role in advising the EC on the priority research areas that will benefit the society and the EU added value for a more secure, greener and safer air transport in 2050. Research Establishments and Academia can obviously share their views on these issues related to European Aviation.
Q4: EASN, as the Association of European Academia, is constantly pursuing a close cooperation with the other stakeholders of the Aviation sector (industry, research establishments and SMEs). Do you feel that the present level of collaboration is satisfactory? How could we achieve better links between Academia and Research Establishments?
Within EU collaborative research projects EREA REs and universities get together naturally and the resulting cooperation works properly. However the coordination of activities at EREA and EASN levels could be improved. As such, as EREA Chairman, I'm fully open to meet the EASN Chairman to discuss about synergetic approaches to issues related to European Aviation, including Clean Sky and H2020, and to share our views on the role of Research Establishments and Universities. It is obvious that REs and Academia have only to gain from working together and pushing together for common messages towards the European Commission and Clean Sky. This will obviously help achieving better links between Academia and Research Establishments.
Q5: Some industrial sectors have started shifting their research capabilities to low-cost countries on a large scale, finally leading to a creeping loss of research facilities, expertise and employment in Europe. Do you see this as a potential danger for the European aviation sector? If yes, what can we do to stop this process without turning Europe into a low-cost area in research too?
It should be noted that Europe has developed over the decades a high level of expertise and capabilities related to research in aeronautics and can provide customers with a fleet of research infrastructures that are unrivaled worldwide.
European universities and engineering schools are offering outstanding education and training programmes to form the best engineers and scientists. EREA REs and universities play an active role in the training of doctoral students and young researchers and keep on devoting effort to ensure excellence in research in Europe. This is a necessary condition to maintain top level research in Europe.
Furthermore it took decades of continuous efforts to reach this level of expertise and infrastructures, so it will take time until new comers can achieve the same level. But without the support from industry and European Member States to maintain this high quality standard, the EU could rapidly be overtaken and lose expertise, infrastructures and independence. At the end, with regard to the European aeronautic industry, whatever the number of decades one needed to build the level of excellence of European research facilities and expertise in aeronautics, all of the past continuous efforts could be lost in years!
Q6: In concluding, are there any adjunct messages you would like to get across to the readers of this interview?
EREA association has proven its efficiency. Our many successes in recent decades are ample proof of the pertinence of this model. However, this model must once again be applied whole-heartedly so that the aeronautics programs that will enter the market in 2030-2050, which must be prepared right now, will enjoy the same success as their predecessors. They have to be able to call on the best technologies developed by research in the coming years, an ambitious mission that REs together with EASN Academia are fully capable of accomplishing, provided, of course, that it is given the required EC funding.
This is a point well worth remembering if we want one of our rare industrial crown jewels to still shine brightly 20 or 30 years from now.