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1.2: Aerospace activity

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    It seems to be under common agreement that the aerospace activities (in which aerospace engineers work) can be divided into seven groups Franchini et al. [2]:

    • the industry, manufacturer of products;
    • the airlines, transporters of goods and people;
    • the military air forces, demanders of high-level technologies;
    • the space agencies, explorers of the space;
    • the infrastructures on earth, supporter of air operations;
    • the research institutions, guarantors of technological progress;
    • the international organizations, providers of jurisprudence.

    The aerospace industry

    The aerospace industry is considered as an strategic activity given that it is a high technology sector with an important economic impact. The Aerospace sector is an important contributor to economic growth everywhere in the world. The european aerospace sector represents a pinnacle of manufacturing which employed almost half a million highly skilled people directly in 2010 and it continuously spins-out technology to other sectors. About 2.6 million indirect jobs can be attributed to air transport related activities and a contribution of around €250 billion1 (around 2.5%) to european gross domestic product in 2010. Therefore, the aerospace industry is an important asset for Europe economically, being a sector that invests heavily in Research and Development (R & D) compared with other industrial sectors. The aerospace sector is also an important pole for innovation.

    The aerospace industry accomplish three kind of activities: aeronautics (integrated by airships, propulsion systems, and infrastructures and equipments); space; and missiles. Grosso modo, the aeronautical industry constitutes around the 80-90% of the total activity.

    The fundamental characteristics of the aerospace industry are:

    • Great dynamism in the cycle research-project-manufacture-commercialization.
    • Specific technologies in the vanguard which spin-out to other sectors.
    • High-skilled people.
    • Limited series (non mass production) and difficult automation of manufacturing processes.
    • Long term development of new projects.
    • Need for huge amount of capital funding.
    • Governmental intervention and international cooperation.

    The linkage between research and project-manufacture is essential because the market is very competitive and the product must fulfill severe safety and reliability requirements in order to be certified. Thus, it is necessary to continuously promote the technological advance to take advantage in such a competitive market.

    The quantity of units produced a year is rather small if we compare it with other manufacture sectors (automobile manufacturing, for instance). An airship factory only produces tens of units a year; in the case of space vehicles the common practice is to produce a unique unit. These facts give a qualitative measure of the difficulties in automating manufacturing processes in order to reduce variable costs.

    The governmental intervention comes from different sources. First, directly participating from the capital of the companies (many of the industries in Spain and Europe are state owned). Indirectly, throughout research subsides. Also, as a direct client, as it is the case for military aviation. The fact that many companies do not have the critical size to absorb the costs and the risks of such projects makes common the creation of long-term alliances for determined aircrafts (Airbus) or jet engines (International Aero Engines or Eurojet).


    Among the diverse elements that conform the air transportation industry, airlines represent the most visible ones and the most interactive with the consumer, i.e., the passenger. An airline provides air transport services for traveling passengers and/or freight. Airlines lease or own their aircraft with which to supply these services and may form partnerships or alliances with other airlines for mutual benefit, e.g., Oneworld, Skyteam, and Star alliance. Airlines vary from those with a single aircraft carrying mail or cargo, through full-service international airlines operating hundreds of aircraft. Airline services can be categorized as being intercontinental, intra-continental, domestic, regional, or international, and may be operated as scheduled services or charters.

    The first airlines were based on dirigibles. DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft) was the world’s first airline. It was founded on November 16, 1909, and operated airships manufactured by the zeppelin corporation. The four oldest non- dirigible airlines that still exist are Netherlands’ KLM, Colombia’s Avianca, Australia’s Qantas, and the Czech Republic’s Czech Airlines. From those first years, going on to the elite passenger of the fifties and ultimately to the current mass use of air transport, the world airline companies have evolved significantly.

    Flag companies Low Cost companies
    Operate hubs and spoke Operate point to point
    Hubs in primary international airports Mostly regional airports
    Long rotation times (50 min) Short rotation times (25 min)
    Mixed fleets  Standardized fleets
    Selling: agencies and internet  Selling: internet
    Extras included (Business, VIP louges, catering) No extras included in the tickets

    Table 1.1: Comparison between flag companies and low cost companies.

    Traditional airlines were state-owned. They were called flag companies and used to have a strong strategic influence. It was not until 1978, with the United States Deregulation Act, when the market started to be liberalized. The main purpose of the act was to remove government control over fares, routes, and market entry of new airlines in the commercial aviation sector. Up on that law, private companies started to emerge in the 80’s and 90’s, specially in USA. Very recently, a new phenomena have arisen within the last 10-15 years: the so called low cost companies, which have favored the mass transportation of people. A comparison between low cost companies and traditional flag companies is presented in Table 1.1. It provides a first understanding of the main issues involved in the direct operating costs of an airline, which will be studied in Chapter 8. The competition has been so fierce that many traditional companies have been pushed to create their own low cost filial companies, as it the case of lberia and its filial lberia Express. See Figure 1.1.

    截屏2022-01-03 下午4.47.07.png
    Figure 1.1: Flag companies (e.g. lberia) and low cost companies (e.g., lberia Express and Ryanair).

    Military air forces

    The military air forces are linked to the defense of each country. In that sense, they play a strategic role in security, heavily depending on the economical potential of the country and its geopolitical situation. Historically, it has been an encouraging sector for technology and innovation towards military supremacy. Think for instance in the advances due to World War II and the Cold War. Nowadays, it is mostly based on cooperation and alliances. However, inherent threats in nations still make this sector a strategic sector whose demand in high technology will be maintained. An instance of this is the encouraging trend of the USA towards the development of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) in the last 20 years in order to maintain the supremacy in the middle east minimizing the risk of soldiers life.

    Space agencies

    截屏2022-01-03 下午4.55.37.png
    Figure 1.2: International Space Station (ISS).

    There are many government agencies engaged in activities related to outer space exploration. Just to mention a few, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA) (successor of the Soviet space program), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). For their interest, the focus will be on these last two.

    The European Space Agency (ESA) was established in 1975, it is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space. It counts currently with 20 member states: Austria, Belgium, Check Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Nederland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Moreover, Hungary and Canada have a special status and cooperate in certain projects.

    In addition to coordinating the individual activities of the member states, ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station (ISS) program (Columbus lab, Node-3, Cupola), the launch and operation of unmanned exploration missions to other planets, asteroids, and the Moon (probe Giotto to observe Halley’s comet; Cassine-Hyugens, joint mission with NASA, to observe Saturn and its moons; Mars Express, to explore mars; Rosetta to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov?Gerasimenko), Earth observation (Meteosat), science (Spacelab), telecommunication (Eutelsat), as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles (Ariane).

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research. NASA was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958, replacing its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NASA science is focused on better understanding of Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs.

    United States space exploration efforts have since 1958 been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, the Space Shuttle, a reusable space vehicles program whose last mission took place in 2011 (see Figure 2.7), the probes (Pioner, Viking, etc.) which explore the outer space. Currently, NASA is supporting the ISS, and the Mars Science Laboratory unmanned mission known as curiosity. NASA not only focuses on space, but conducts fundamental research in aeronautics, such in aerodynamics, propulsion, materials, or air navigation.

    Infrastructures on earth

    In order to perform safe operations either for airliners, military aircraft, or space missions, a set of infrastructures and human resources is needed. The necessary infrastructures on earth to assist flight operations and space missions are: airports and air navigation services on the one hand (referring to atmospheric flights); launch bases and control and surveillance centers on the other (referring to space missions).

    The airport is the localized infrastructure where flights depart and land, and it is also a multi-modal node where interaction between flight transportation and other transportation modes (rail and road) takes place. It consists of a number of conjoined buildings, flight field installations, and equipments that enable: the safe landing, take-off, and ground movements of aircrafts, together with the provision of hangars for parking, service, and maintenance; the multi-modal (earth-air) transition of passengers, baggage, and cargo.

    The air navigation is the process of steering an aircraft in flight from an initial position to a final position, following a determined route and fulfilling certain requirements of safety and efficiency. The navigation is performed by each aircraft independently, using diverse external sources of information and proper on-board equipment. The fundamental goals are to avoid getting lost, to avoid collisions with other aircraft or obstacles, and to minimize the influence of adverse meteorological conditions. Air navigation demands juridic, organizational, operative, and technical framework to assist aircraft on air fulfilling safe operations. The different Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSP) (AENA in Spain, FAA in USA, Eurocontrol in Europe, etc.) provide these frameworks, comprising three main components:

    • Communication, Navigation, and Surveillance (CNS). 
    • Meteorological services.
    • Air Traffic Management (ATM).
      • Air Space Management (ASM).
      • Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM).
      • Air Traffic Services (ATS) such traffic control and information.

    A detailed insight on these concepts will be given in Chapter 10 and Chapter 11.

    A launch base is an earth-based infrastructure from where space vehicles are launched to outer space. The situation of launch bases depends up on different factors, including latitudes close to the ecuador, proximity to areas inhabited or to the sea to avoid danger in the first stages of the launch, etc. The most well known bases are: Cape Kennedy in Florida (NASA); Kourou in the French Guyana (ESA); Baikonur en Kazakhstan (ex Soviet Union space program). Together with the launch base, the different space agencies have control centers to monitor the evolution of the space vehicles, control their evolution, and communicate with the crew (in case there is crew).

    Aerospace research institutions

    The research institutions fulfill a key role within the aerospace activities because the development of aviation and space missions is based on a continuos technological progress affecting a variety of disciplines such as aerodynamics, propulsion, materials, avionics, communication, airports, air navigation, etc. The research activity is fundamentally fulfilled at universities, aerospace companies, and public institutions.

    Some relevant aerospace research institutions are: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States of America (USA),; the French Aerospace Lab (ONERA), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), or Spanish the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Europe; the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the China National Space Administration (CNSA)) in Asia; and the (Roscosmos) State Corporation for Space Activities

    International organizations

    In order to promote a reliable, efficient, and safe air transportation, many regulations are needed. This regulatory framework arises individually in each country but always under the regulatory core of two fundamental supranational organizations: The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) .

    ICAO was created as a result of the Chicago Convention. ICAO was created as a specialized agency of the United Nations charged with coordinating and regulating international air travel. The Convention establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, and details the rights of the signatories in relation to air travel. In the successive revisions ICAO has agreed certain criteria about the freedom of overflying and landing in countries, to develop the safe and ordered development of civil aviation world wide, to encourage the design and use techniques of airships, to stimulate the development of the necessary infrastructures for air navigation. Overall, ICAO has encourage the evolution of civil aviation.

    The modern IATA is the successor to the International Air Traffic Association founded in the Hague in 1919. IATA was founded in Havana, Cuba, in April 1945. It is the prime vehicle for inter-airline cooperation in promoting safe, reliable, secure, and economical air services. IATA seeks to improve understanding of the industry among decision makers and increase awareness of the benefits that aviation brings to national and global economies. IATA ensures that people and goods can move around the global airline network as easily as if they were on a single airline in a single country.

    In addition to the cited organizations, it is convenient to mention the two most important organization with responsibility in safety laws and regulations, including the airship project and airship certification, maintenance labour, crew training, etc.: The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the European Union and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Spain counts with the Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aérea (AESA), dependent on the ministry of infrastructures (fomento). AESA is also responsible for safety legislation in civil aviation, airships, airports, air navigation, passengers rights, general aviation, etc.

    1. one billion herein refers to monetary units.

    1.2: Aerospace activity is shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Manuel Soler Arnedo via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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