The Aircraft Research Association (ARA), based on the outskirts of Bedford, is one of the world’s leading providers of aerodynamic design and analysis services to the worldwide aerospace industry.
The ARA was first established in 1952 by 14 different British aircraft manufacturers with the purpose of building a wind tunnel for testing planes that could travel faster than the speed of sound. That tunnel was built and first became operable in 1956.
Today, the company provides a range of specialist services to the worldwide aerospace industry and works with many major civil and military aircraft manufacturers around the world.
According to CEO Paul Hutchings, the ARA hasn’t always been that well known in the local area, which was a somewhat deliberate move on the company’s behalf in the early days. But now, as an employer of 150 highly-skilled technical people and with a commitment to investing in the future potential talent in the local area, Paul is excited to shine more of a light on the ARA as a technology hub within the county.
Paul became CEO of ARA eighteen months ago and recently signed up to our Bedfordshire Business Ambassador programme. We spoke with him about what it means to be an ambassador and how he hopes to use this platform to inspire potential future employees in the Bedfordshire area.
“We are a high-tech company with a significant export market employing a lot of very clever people in the area and we would like to be more open about that. 90% of our people have some form of tech qualification. We employ a good number of people around the world, but if we can employ local people that would be preferable.”
Paul is committed to strengthening and growing the existing team by bringing in more local talent through apprenticeships, as well as taking on PhD students.
“We take on 4 or 5 apprentices every other year from Bedford college, right through to PhD students. Part of the wish to be involved in the ambassador programme was to raise our profile and inspire future potential employees in the Bedfordshire area.”
In his role as an ambassador, Paul is excited to support schools and further education institutions in inspiring young people to move into technology roles.
ARA also have a lot of knowledge of export that could help encourage other companies to explore export opportunities within their own organisations.
"Approximately 80% of what we do is export. We work for all the major civil and military aircraft manufacturers in Europe, most of the Americas, and a significant part of the Far East too."
Research shows that a lot of UK SMEs are sceptical about exporting, but ARA's success and knowledge can hopefully inspire other local businesses.
If you are interested in export opportunities, one of the benefits of becoming a Chamber member is that we can offer you support in terms of export documentation and strategy. We are happy to offer advice and guidance to those who are nervous about taking their first steps into exporting. If you want to find out more, contact Paula at the Chamber.
Paul is also enthusiastic about the potential to connect with local businesses. ARA’s strong relationships with aircraft companies around the world could benefit other businesses in the area.
“We have good ties with people within aircraft companies. We are very niche and do a very particular job. We would be happy to promote partners’ interests if other companies were doing associated work. We would be happy to talk to companies with them.”
“We also occasionally subcontract some of our manufacturing work, primarily CNC machining, and if we can find local companies to subcontract to then that would be our preference.”
For ARA, investing in people, equipment and techniques is their primary focus. As well as continuing to maintain its’ position at the forefront of the Aerospace industry’s research and development capabilities, ARA is committed to maintaining an environment where personal and professional development is encouraged.
If you think you could be a Bedfordshire Business Ambassador, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Justin to find out more.