Thought Leadership: Ireland’s central role in the growing global aviation space

From cli­mate con­cerns to new reg­u­la­tions, tech­no­log­i­cal improve­ments to oper­at­ing-cost pres­sures, there is sig­nif­i­cant change hap­pen­ing in the avi­a­tion indus­try. Shau­na Hig­gins, Vice Pres­i­dent of Engi­neer­ing and Green Econ­o­my at IDA Ire­land, exam­ines Ireland’s role in the avi­a­tion space and how the coun­try is ris­ing to meet the chal­lenges of today.


Ire­land has been shap­ing the future of glob­al avi­a­tion ever since the world’s first non-stop transat­lantic flight land­ed on the island in 1919.

Ever since that pio­neer­ing first, the country’s avi­a­tion inno­va­tion has been accel­er­at­ed. In 2019, Ire­land saw the launch of the world’s first space- based ADS‑B glob­al air traf­fic sur­veil­lance sys­tem, man­aged by the Irish Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty (IAA).

Known as the Aire­on ALERT, it is the avi­a­tion industry’s first and only free glob­al emer­gency air­craft loca­tion ser­vice, devel­oped to assist res­cue agen­cies, air traf­fic con­trol providers and air­lines.

This inno­va­tion has con­tin­ued into 2023 with Ire­land play­ing a role in the new avi­a­tion tech­nolo­gies in advanced air mobil­i­ty (AAM) that are rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the sec­tor. A prime exam­ple of this can be seen at Shan­non Air­port, a long­stand­ing impor­tant EU base for a long list of promi­nent glob­al sup­port and MRO com­pa­nies.

Many ele­ments of the aero­space life cycle are present at Shan­non includ­ing air­frame main­te­nance, engine main­te­nance and repair, parts man­u­fac­ture and design, tech­ni­cal record­ing and legal, and tear­down and part-out (the process of dis­as­sem­bling and remov­ing air­craft parts for dis­pos­al or recy­cling).

Each ele­ment is essen­tial for unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cles (UAV) and beyond visu­al line of sight (BVLOS) drones to become ful­ly devel­oped – which are key com­po­nents of the AAM evo­lu­tion.

And due to the on-site space avail­able at Shan­non, the air­port also has air­craft test­beds, which are vital for the safe devel­op­ment process of both manned and unmanned devices and vehi­cles.

Also locat­ed near the air­port is the Future Mobil­i­ty Cam­pus Ire­land (FMCI): a facil­i­ty that spe­cialis­es in research and inno­va­tion for both air (elec­tric ver­ti­cal take-off land­ing, unmanned traf­fic man­age­ment, unmanned drones) and ground (autonomous dri­ving, micro-mobil­i­ty, smart cities, vehi­cle-to-every­thing com­mu­ni­ca­tions) tech­nolo­gies.

It sup­ports a wide range of groups, from gov­ern­ment enti­ties and start-ups, through to multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and indi­vid­ual researchers. FMCIs aim is to under­stand, tri­al and estab­lish soci­etal­ly life-chang­ing solu­tions on a glob­al scale as well as local­ly in Shan­non.

Expan­sion of Ireland’s UAV mar­ket

How­ev­er, the indus­try needs to ensure that such an orig­i­nal and vig­or­ous ecosys­tem con­tains sup­port­ive geo­graph­i­cal, gov­ern­men­tal and infra­struc­tur­al com­po­nents for this rev­o­lu­tion to con­tin­ue to evolve.

Inno­va­tion is the key. In this respect, and of spe­cif­ic inter­est to inno­va­tors and investors, is the first ful­ly cer­ti­fied for flight eVOTL air­craft. Accord­ing to the FMCI, the UAV sec­tor is set to expand with a mar­ket val­u­a­tion of US$133.5B by 2026.

Along­side this expan­sion comes ‘EALU-AER’ , an EU-based research project focused on cul­ti­vat­ing, expand­ing and opti­mis­ing the unmanned flight ecosys­tem. The project includes Euro­pean and Irish part­ners includ­ing Dublin-based Avtrain, Collins Aero­space, the Irish Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty, Shan­non Group and Italy’s Deep­blue.

Under the SESAR 3 Joint Under­tak­ing, the project has received fund­ing aimed at mak­ing Europe’s air­space the most effi­cient and envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly sky to fly in the world through its research and inno­va­tion.

Includ­ed with­in the UAV sector’s expan­sion are drones, which are set to become a large com­po­nent of the UAV mar­ket. The BVLOS mar­ket is set to be worth US$34 bil­lion by 2029: a direct result of the wide range of appli­ca­tions on offer, from res­cue mis­sions, fire­fight­ing and search, con­struc­tion, min­ing, aer­i­al sur­vey­ing and map­ping, infra­struc­ture inspec­tion and pack­age deliv­ery.

Reg­u­la­tion and finance

But it’s not just inno­va­tion that allows avi­a­tion to flour­ish. It’s the reg­u­la­to­ry infra­struc­ture that sup­ports such advances. And in this respect, Ire­land is for­tu­nate to be reg­u­lat­ed by a world leader: the Irish Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty (IAA). This is the Euro­pean Union Safe­ty Agency (EASA) des­ig­nate agency for Ire­land, with strong links with coun­ter­parts in oth­er juris­dic­tions.

Ire­land has long been con­sid­ered a glob­al cen­tre for avi­a­tion leas­ing and finance. More than 50 air­craft leas­ing com­pa­nies are based in Ire­land, includ­ing 14 of the world’s 15 lessors.

Over 60 per cent of all leased air­craft world­wide are man­aged by Irish-based leas­ing com­pa­nies. A dom­i­nance that results in, an Irish-leased air­craft tak­ing off from an air­port some­where in the world every two sec­onds.

An exten­sive his­to­ry of a skilled work­force

Yet Ireland’s avi­a­tion sec­tor remains com­mit­ted to growth. And that means being able to source and hire a high­ly expe­ri­enced and skilled work­force. For­tu­nate­ly, Ire­land has a large tal­ent pool, not least for the crit­i­cal finance and legal roles that under­pin the Irish avi­a­tion indus­try.

Yet this tal­ent pool also encom­pass­es roles such as air­craft main­te­nance and oth­er high­ly qual­i­fied jobs includ­ing — pilots, engi­neers, and tech­ni­cians who are all cul­tur­al com­po­nents in the sup­ply chain. This also applies to Ireland’s high­ly respect­ed edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, which is busi­ness-focused and with strong indus­try inputs.

It is glob­al­ly recog­nised for its con­cen­tra­tion on sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM) sub­jects – with the coun­try hav­ing intro­duced Europe’s first master’s degree in Avi­a­tion Finance in 2016.

Clear skies ahead?

With such sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments in the avi­a­tion space, there will be height­ened demands and expec­ta­tions with respect to air­craft design cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and reg­u­la­tions, with oper­a­tional issues being impact­ed the most.

Play­ers across the indus­try are con­tend­ing with the fast-paced nature of these changes and Com­pa­nies must tread care­ful­ly to not only thrive but also keep pace with the evolv­ing indus­try – and Ire­land, one of Europe’s lead­ing inno­va­tors in avi­a­tion, is com­mit­ted to help­ing the avi­a­tion indus­try towards the future it deserves, one of inno­va­tion, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, and growth.

Shau­na Hig­gins Vice Pres­i­dent of<br>Engi­neer­ing and Green Econ­o­my at IDA Ire­land
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Jason Pritchard

Jason Pritchard is the Editor of eVTOL Insights. He holds a BA from Leicester's De Montfort University and has worked in Journalism and Public Relations for more than a decade. Outside of work, Jason enjoys playing and watching football and golf. He also has a keen interest in Ancient Egypt.

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