From building Airfix models to eventually becoming CEO of the Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC), Alan Fisher has seen the many twists, turns and the odd barrel roll of the aerospace industry. Active within ADS Group and a current NATEP panellist, he looks back on his career.
Like many in the aerospace industry I grew up sticking together Airfix models – I enjoyed working out how things worked and solving problems. I was brought up in Gillingham, Kent – punctuated by periods in Hong Kong and Malta – and after school signed up for a HND course in electrical engineering.
It was clear then that I might not be the engineer I hoped to be and went on to take diplomas in marketing and management during the mid-1970s. My first real job was as an apprentice at AEI Power Cables in Gravesend and after that I joined Marconi-Elliott Avionic Systems (now BAE Systems) in Rochester in 1978.
At first, I worked in the contracts department and we had one BBC computer in the whole office that used to get wheeled out when anyone wanted to use it. Due to being a rubbish engineer I moved to the marketing side of the business in the ‘combat aircraft controls division’. In 1991 I made the move to Birmingham to join Lucas Aerospace – later Lucas Electronics – as marketing manager.
I joined Ultra Electronics in Greenford in 1995 and worked closely with aviation companies both in the UK and abroad. Then in 2000 I became managing director of Claverham, Supply Chain Management Division, later acquired by Hamilton Sundstrand where, amongst other things, I developed long-term agreements with the MoD for the supply of electro-hydraulic primary flight control systems on the Tornado, Jaguar, Harrier and Lynx aircraft. I then moved to become managing director of Pattonair and in 2004 ADS came knocking, and I joined them.
While many who have risen up the ranks in the industry came up through the engineering route, my time in marketing and sales gave me a different sort of grounding, but an extremely useful one. I gained experience in all sides of the industry and learned that problems to be solved were not just restricted to the engineering departments. My role at ADS was initially to look at membership growth and retention and then I became director of operations and international aerospace sales. With all that experience and all those contacts made over nearly 40 years, I launched my own consultancy in 2013 – AF Advisors – which I still run.
During the next few years, I also worked for MEP as its business development director and was approached by the Department for International Trade to advise as an ‘aerospace supply specialist’, looking at trade and inward investment into the UK from Western Europe, Canada and the rest of the world.
I was also approached by Farnborough Aerospace Consortium (FAC) to help with its membership, and since 2021 I’ve been its CEO. It is a role that provides enormous satisfaction because we are able to help the small SMEs gain work with the giants of the industry and can assist them in many practical ways.
Currently, like much of the industry, we are looking at ‘future flight’ and the changing of propulsion technology and the advancement of cleaner fuels. At our recent conference, we also highlighted how SMEs can find work and new directions within the space industry.
We are building clusters across the South and South-East to enable companies to maximise their potential, and we enjoy a close relationship with the Department of Business and Trade. With aircraft production back to almost where it was before Covid the industry is becoming healthier and there is a renewed optimism across the sector.