Three Lessons the Water Industry Could Learn from Aerospace Sector

The UK water sector faces a number of challenges and in addressing them it should look to learn some lessons from the aerospace sector. 

Writing in Infrastructure Intelligence Sachin Sachdeva, managing consultant in MWH Global, recognises that water companies have made remarkable progress to address the challenges they face. These include a diminishing and unpredictable water supply due to climate change and ageing infrastructure.      

However, he says there is a growing consensus that to ensure continued water security in the future with reasonable levels of investment, water companies will have to find innovative ways of delivering outcomes sustainably. 

To achieve this he feels that it would be worth them looking closely at the UK aerospace sector, which is considered world class in terms of innovation and operational effectiveness, and cites three lesson. 


Research and Development (R&D) – The UK aerospace sector spends approximately 8% of its turnover in R&D versus less than 0.5% for the water sector. And the overall spend for the water sector has been falling due to focus on short-term outcomes through five-year asset management plan cycles. 

Water companies should consider increasing their R&D spend and developing strategic partnerships with the other water companies and research institutes. They should take a long-term view and lobby together to influence the regulator to incentivise medium to long term R&D investments, particularly in the areas of carbon reduction and sustainability. 


Asset and data management – Aerospace companies use advanced techniques to monitor performance of their assets as failures can cost billions and human lives. Rolls Royce’s Engine Health Management (EHM) tracks the health of thousands of engines operating worldwide. EHM has significantly reduced the cost of maintenance by optimising schedules and increasing engine availability by dispatching parts and engineering teams to the destination to fix any issues, even before the plane has landed. 

Data analytics present tremendous opportunities to the water sector – water quality assessment, leak detection, flood warnings, to name a few. Data can be analysed to enable optimal utilisation of plants, machinery and resources, help companies better prioritise their investment decisions, and improve overall customer experience. 


Collaboration – The aerospace sector has been driving innovation and product development through extensive collaboration. GE and Rolls-Royce use risk and revenue sharing partnerships (RRSPs) to spread the risks and rewards across the supply chain during the life of a product. This has many benefits, including allowing partners to draw and build further on their expertise, driving efficiency and incentivising innovation across the supply chain, encouraging best practice sharing and reducing waste. 

Some water companies have used strategic alliances – Thames Water’s eight2O alliance for example – which brings together expertise from multiple sectors to deliver a common set of outcomes. However, it falls short of the aerospace RRSP model since alliance partners are not liable for long-term performance. The RRSP model could bring real value for all stakeholders in the water sector considering the assets have long life, are capital intensive and, like in the aerospace sectors, they are developed and deployed by an extended supply chain.   


The water sector is already transforming but Sachin Sachdeva concludes that, in order to become world class, companies within it need to collaborate extensively across the corporate boundaries; develop long term investment strategies; and accelerate the pace of innovation and adoption of technologies proven elsewhere.