This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data..
Last Published: 8/1/2019


The UK aerospace industry is the second largest in the world, behind that of the U.S. In 2018, total UK civil aerospace turnover totaled over $44.6 billion, and the sector had approximately a 17% global market share.  The UK aerospace industry is the crown jewel for UK exports and, even though the UK does not produce large civil aircraft, 90% of domestic aerospace production is exported.  The UK has a particular reputation as a global center of excellence for the design and production of engines, helicopters, wings, structures and aircraft systems (including landing gear). Rolls-Royce-manufactured engines power more than 35 types of commercial aircraft, and the company has over 13,000 engines in service around the world.  The UK also designs and manufactures wings for all Airbus aircraft platforms and the Bombardier C Series. In addition to manufacturing, the UK has a thriving maintenance, repair and overhaul sector (MRO), that provides services to the huge numbers of military and civil aircraft that fly through and from the UK every year. It is estimated that there are over 1,300 companies involved in the MRO and logistics sector in the UK with a combined turnover of over $195 billion and employing over 57,000 people. .  The aerospace industry is a major market for U.S. exports in the United Kingdom.


With the UK exiting the European Union, there is uncertainty around the impact of Brexit on the aerospace and defense (A&D) sector.  The relationships between the UK and other countries, especially the U.S., coupled with the future renegotiation of trade agreements, will play a major role in the challenges and opportunities facing the UK’s A&D industry.  UK defense spending is expected to remain steady, with a slight impact on certain defense programs due to economic uncertainty.  Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the pound sterling has depreciated in value, which is expected to boost the UK’s exports as they become more cost-competitive.   

More than 3,000 aerospace companies operate in the UK, and the aerospace sector has the largest number of SME companies in Europe, providing over 282,000 jobs directly and indirectly.  Domestic companies include BAE Systems, Cobham, GKN, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce, and Ultra Electronics.  Non-domestic companies with a major presence include Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus Group, Leonardo (including its AgustaWestland and Selex ES subsidiaries), General Electric (including its GE Aviation Systems subsidiary), Lockheed Martin, MBDA, Safran, and Thales Group.

Airbus UK in Broughton assembles the wings for all Airbus civil aircraft, including the new A350 XWB.  Bombardier in Belfast designs, develops and manufactures lightweight composite wings for the C Series. In October 2018, Boeing opened a production facility in Sheffield, Boeing’s first manufacturing site in Europe. The $50 million facility is located near the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC). GKN Aerospace will also produce the new Advanced Technology Winglet for the Boeing 737 MAX.  Rolls-Royce-manufactured engines power more than 35 types of commercial aircraft. 

The UK government has demonstrated significant interest in developing and increasing the domestic supply chain. In 2010, UK industry and government established the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP), which develops initiatives to encourage UK companies to cooperate closely and to address gaps and problems that affect the sector, tackle barriers to growth, and boost both UK exports and high value jobs. 

Organizations are invited to express an interest in a competition worth over $190 million a year with their innovative ideas for future aerospace design and manufacture. The best projects will then be invited to apply for grant funding.  The investment is part of the $5 billion UK Aerospace Research and Technology (UKART) program, a partnership between government and industry, managed by Innovate UK, the Aerospace Technology Institute and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Leading Sub-Sectors


The UK’s helicopter market is dominated by Leonardo and Airbus Helicopters UK.  Leonardo is the largest inward investor in the UK defense sector, the largest Italian inward investor to the UK, and one of the biggest suppliers of defense equipment to the UK MOD. Leonardo implements its helicopter division activities through a strong industrial presence in the UK. The company employs around 7,000 people in UK, while supporting a further 10,000 jobs in the supply chain including 1,550 SMEs, serving both commercial and government customers worldwide.

For over 30 years, Airbus Helicopters UK has provided products and services for both the civil and military helicopter markets. With more than 300 civil helicopters customized and delivered in the UK, Airbus Helicopters UK is the leading provider of helicopters in the UK’s civil and para-public market with a 46% fleet share, and it dominates the UK security and emergency services market.
Space:  The UK has a significant, concentrated, and growing space sector. With a particular strength in small satellite manufacturing and service, accounting for 74% of the UK space sector, 40% of all orbiting small satellites are UK-built. The country also offers access to high demand orbits, industry regulatory excellence, and a commitment to investing and expanding its global space market share from 6.5% to 10% by 2030.

Annual turnover in the UK space sector reaches around $18 billion per year and continues to grow. The sector employs over 40,000 people directly and over 75,000 indirectly, operates across industry, and forms strategic partnerships with countries and organizations like the U.S. and European Space Agency.

The UK government has taken an active role in promoting space sector growth, allocating $64.5 million to the UK Space Agency to fund cutting-edge space launch research projects. The UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council intend to make available up to $25 million for Spaceport Cornwall and US launch operator Virgin Orbit to develop facilities and operational capabilities that would enable small satellite launch from Cornwall in the early 2020s. This investment remains subject to business case approval processes, including from Cornwall Council later this year.

In the wake of Brexit, UK Government will face important decisions, including which space capabilities to invest in, how much to participate in international space projects, what the role should be for the UK Space Agency, and how much integration should exist between the civil and defense space efforts. Brexit could result in the UK ending its participation in EU-funded international space programs, including the global navigation satellite system Galileo, and pursuing its own global navigation satellites. The withdrawal from Galileo suggests the UK Space Agency, responsible for strategic decisions on the UK civil space program, may be shifting its focus from investing in international space projects to acquiring national space capabilities.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, is experiencing increased momentum within the UK aerospace sector.  3D printing enables weight reduction, manufacture of niche, low-volume parts and complex design parts, as well as reducing complexity of assembly processes.  Components most suitable for manufacturing include low and high temperature fasteners, discs, hubs, spacers, seals, compressor blades, landing gear, and aircraft interiors.

Lightweight materials (Composites):  Lightweight materials are increasingly being adopted in the UK aerospace sector to provide enhanced properties such as high strength-to-weight ratio, superior impact and corrosion resistance, and extreme high temperature resistance.  The University of Bristol received an investment of $33  million from the UK Government to develop a UK National Composites Centre for advanced research on composites used in aerospace.


The opportunities in this market continue to be those associated with the manufacturing of new aircraft or engine models, or for those companies that employ the latest technology such as composites or additive manufacturing.  In addition, the UK aerospace industry is also seeing an increase in the use of cloud computing platforms, with innovation in integrated solutions such as flight planning tools and digital flight management systems. 

The best prospects in the UK continue to include:
 Aerodynamics (e.g. wing design);

  • Propulsion (e.g. rotor blades, engine assembly);
  • Aero structures (e.g. fuselage & wing assembly); and
  • Advanced systems (e.g. avionics, undercarriage).

The UK continues to enjoy a record backlog of orders for equipment across narrow- and wide-body aircraft, but to deliver on these orders is an increasing challenge within the UK supply chain.  This backlog of orders is becoming more acute for tier 2 suppliers and below, and may cause UK companies to consider forming new alliances to create extra capacity to meet obligations.  Suppliers should consider collaborating with a larger customer with an established presence in the UK which is looking to increase capacity.  U.S. companies should also expect to enter the UK market at a lower tier of the supply chain than they might otherwise usually enter in the U.S. or globally.  Suppliers may also need to consider using a local distributor or agent with established ties within the market.

Entering the UK aerospace market requires patience, investment, innovative products, and competitive pricing. The aerospace supply chain is well-integrated with the primes all looking to reduce the number of their suppliers.  A U.S. company can expect to have to commit both time and resources to enter or expand within the UK aerospace market, especially companies providing what are known as “me too” products and services.  Selling to OEMs as well as tier 1 and 2 manufacturers entails a vendor/product qualification and assessment process.  All U.S. companies desiring to become a supplier will need to register with their prospective customer.  In addition, AS9100 and NADCAP would be considered minimum requirements for doing business in the aerospace supply chain in the UK. All companies desiring to become a supplier to the Ministry of Defence are required to complete Cyber Essentials accreditation.

With such a well-integrated and mature supply chain, new U.S. suppliers must demonstrate a clear competitive advantage if they are to be successful in the UK. With most of the major aerospace manufacturers in the UK looking to simplify their supply chains, there are fewer opportunities to supply and these opportunities will tend to be further down the supply chain. As long as suppliers are compliant with EU regulations/standards, they should not encounter any significant technical barriers to entry.

Web Resources

Industry Events

Defense & Security Equipment International (DSEI)
September 10-13, 2019 · London, UK
One of the world’s largest defense exhibitions with 1,500 international exhibitors from 54 countries, including approximately 180 U.S. companies.  The 2017 event showcases new capabilities in land domain.

Vertical Flight Expo
November 5-7, 2019 · London, UK
A Trade Fair that brings together the global rotorcraft community and delivers solutions to inspire new ways of providing civil and para public services to market sectors. 

October, 2019 · London, UK
A Trade Fair that brings together the global rotorcraft community and delivers solutions to inspire new ways of providing civil and para public services to market sectors. 

Farnborough International Airshow (FIA)
July 20-25, 2020 · London, UK
One of Europe’s largest aerospace exhibitions, with 1500 exhibitors from 39 countries of which around 350 exhibitors are from the U.S. 

Trade Associations

ADS Group
UK Space

Farnborough Aerospace Consortium
British Helicopter Association

For further information, please contact:
PJ Menner
Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service
Tel: +44 (0)20 7891 3470


Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

More Information

United Kingdom Aerospace and Defense Trade Development and Promotion