If only Europe could be more like its aerospace industry. With the EU’s continuing weak policy reaction to its recession making the debt crisis drag on and on, one area where joined-up working and investing in talent and technology is getting great results is up in the air. Yes, Europe can do successful industry and it can develop world-leading companies. Look to the skies for proof.

The European aerospace industry has sales of €122.2bn, employs 517,000 people, and spends more than €13bn on research and development. 

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Its exports outside the EU are worth €38.6bn. Its performance is one of growth, not recession. It supports some big crossborder players including EADS, the Franco-German-Spanish industrial conglomerate that owns Airbus; BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce of the UK; Finmeccanica of Italy; and Thales, Dassault Aviation and Safran of France. 

The industry has developed a bunch of ‘aviation valleys’ across Europe, and is investing in the skills and know-how in these centres. Examples include Toulouse and the wider Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine regions in France; the Wallonia region of Belgium; the Hamburg region in Germany; Farnborough and the south-west and north-west regions of the UK; the Brno-Kunovice region in the Czech Republic; and the city of Rzeszow in the Podkarpackie region of Poland. 

As well as putting lots of its money into skilled workers, much of its R&D spend is good for the planet. For example, Airbus spends more than 90% of its R&D budget on technologies that bring environmental benefits for aircraft.

Wow. Here is an industry that uses pan-European comparative advantage and economies of scale  that maximise productivity through specialisation and investment in innovation, and can successfully sell globally. Other European industries, please take note. 

Douglas Clark is director of Location Connections, a site selection and FDI consultancy. E-mail: douglas@locationconnections.com