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CSIRO Co-Launches Aerospace R&D Programme

Image Credits: CSIRO, Press Release

Improving sustainability and using digital technologies to boost productivity are among the focus areas of a new five-year research programme launched by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and the world’s largest aerospace company. Building on 32 years of joint research, the new agreement will see the partners invest up to AUD 41 million across areas of mutual interest. The Chief Executive of CSIRO stated that the relationship with the aerospace company represented a success story of science partnering with industry to create impact.

CSIRO has existed for more than 100 years to help the industry solve its greatest challenges and create a prosperous society. The agency’s partnership with the aerospace firm is an example of that, science delivering real solutions for aviation and aerospace industries and creating economic benefits for Australia and jobs for Australians that we know from our history will continue to deliver value for decades. The next five years will see science move the needle on innovation to create sustainable solutions that deliver the great challenge of lowering emissions while expanding our economy at the same time – but that’s what science does.

CSIRO has been named the aerospace firm’s Supplier of the Year on four occasions: 2011, 2016, 2017 and 2018 in the Environmental category. The parties have made numerous breakthroughs since first partnering in 1989. These include CSIRO’s ‘Paintbond’ technology, which has been applied to more than a thousand of the firm’s aeroplanes around the world, saving millions of dollars in maintenance costs.

The Chief Engineer of the aerospace company and Executive Vice President of Engineering, Test & Technology at the company welcomed the partnership. He noted that years of research and development is at the core of every critical innovation in aerospace. The new multi-year agreement with CSIRO will lead to a more sustainable aviation industry, building upon the decades-long partnership that has already produced so many significant advancements for the firm and its customers.

Over the years the organisations have invested more than AUD 200 million on joint research projects. The strong relationship with CSIRO was a key factor in the company choosing Australia as the location for its largest research and development operation outside the United States.

CSIRO’s Chief Technical Advisor to the company stated that the next few years would see the organisations ramp up projects focused on using AI, machine learning and creating digital twins to improve efficiency and lower costs. “There is also huge potential to use CSIRO’s deep expertise in sustainability to reduce environmental impacts right across the value chain from aeroplane manufacturing, right through to optimising times around flight operations.”

Australia’s aerospace industry

Aircraft manufacturing and repair services in Australia generated revenue of over US$ 2 billion in 2020, reflecting a substantial decline of approximately 45% in total revenue from a peak in 2015-16. The decline has been apparent each year since 2015-16 and is driven by a mix of factors including cheaper offshore options and also a preference to centralise some maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities overseas in the U.S.

Exports have been climbing modestly but steadily until 2020-21 when they fell substantially by some 35%. Imports had been increasingly steadily also until 2020-21 when they fell by 20%. Overall, it has been a long-term trend of declining local MRO activity with a growing reliance on imports, interrupted only by the worldwide downturn in the aviation sector in 2020.

However, forward projections point to confidence in domestic aviation travel returning to full capacity in 2022 and a shift in industry focus towards ordering smaller aircraft. Despite international travel being the most negatively impacted and unlikely to return to full capacity for some years, Australian airline fleet upgrades will likely result in continued high imports, especially as some airlines focus on trailing ultra-long-haul flights. Lightweight parts made of composite materials may also be a bright spot as they can lift aircraft fuel efficiency.

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