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45 Years - Commercial Developments in the A&D Sector

on Friday, 23 October 2015.

45 years ago (October 1970) I began my journey in law as a new undergraduate at the Faculty of Law, University College London.

You must go and see a film called 45 Years currently on general release. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are brilliant. The title of the film was especially poignant for me.

45 years ago (October 1970) I began my journey in law as a new undergraduate at the Faculty of Law, University College London. 45 years later I am retiring from VWV, so I thought that I would share with you my thoughts about some key issues in the aerospace and defence sector:


South West

Here in the South West we have the largest concentration of aerospace and defence businesses in Europe. The major players in the local aerospace and defence community are keen to maintain the South West's leading role in the sector and, with that in mind are working collaboratively in an initiative called iAero. iAero is designed to create major centres of manufacturing and supply here in Bristol and the South West. The West of England Aerospace Forum (WEAF) will play a leading role in the iAero project, if you would like to know more do give me a call or speak to Simon Young, the CEO of WEAF.


Supply Chain

There is increasing pressure on suppliers to reduce the number of parties in the A&D supply chain. Lessons have been learned from the automotive sector which has already gone down this path. Unfortunately, reducing the number of suppliers is not easy, There is no 'one size fits all' legal solution which allows suppliers to form syndicates and clusters. My prediction for the future is that new forms of legal groupings, possibly based on European Economic Interest Groups, will develop over the next few years in response to customer demands.


Speed

The speed with which things are done has increased enormously in 45 years. As a young lawyer I used telex and post to get messages around the world. It would be days before you got a response. Now communications are instantaneous and responses take minutes. This can lead to expensive mistakes and as a lawyer I see those mistakes end up in court. My advice is to be careful about how you use email communications and be aware that they can create legally binding obligations just as easily as a formal written contract prepared by a lawyer.


Disputes

Mistakes lead to disputes which need to be resolved. A&D businesses (perhaps more than most other sectors) tend to resolve their disputes commercially rather than by involving lawyers. This often leads to a win/lose result. I am a big fan of mediation, a form of dispute resolution where an independent facilitator called 'a mediator' assists the parties to resolve their dispute in a win/win way. Mediation didn't really exist 45 years ago; arbitration or litigation in the courts were the main options. Do use mediation if you can. It will save you money in the long term.


Certainty

Disputes can also arise out of uncertainty. For example, where the parties to a business venture may not be clear about what they have agreed, or what obligations they have taken on. My perception is that written contracts are less common now than they were 45 years ago. That of itself is not the issue.  The issue is that, contrary to popular belief, the courts will not step in and write a contract (if there isn't one) or rewrite a contract (if there is one). So, if you want to sleep at night, do take the time to prepare a document which records in writing what you have agreed and what you want.

This is my cue to sign off and hand over to my colleague, Ben Holt, who will be leading the Aerospace and Defence team at VWV when I retire.

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