This summer the ATI invited its first ever intern to work with the Strategy Team, offering the chance for an undergraduate to gain some work experience in the sector. Lukas Alemu is in his 3rd year at the University of Bristol studying Mechanical Engineering, and sums up his time with the Institute.

Coming into any professional workplace for the first time is always slightly daunting, but I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome than I have been here at the ATI.

My work at the ATI has centred around a revamp of the aerospace market model. This will be used to support the refresh of the Market Outlook which will be published at the end of the year. It has been built to be more robust, dynamic and flexible for the Strategy Team to work with in the future.  Laying the groundwork for the model and building it up in an alternative platform has been an exciting challenge, especially coming from a position of relative inexperience! And whilst the project has been difficult, help from my colleagues has always been at hand. I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn new skills to help me achieve the tasks I’ve been given responsibility for.

As much as there has been a lot of work there has also been a lot of fun, with the ATI summer social standing out as a great time. I certainly didn’t expect to be playing rounders with the whole team during my internship!

Having joined as the first ever ATI intern I would like to think I have left a good impression, become slightly wiser from my time here and made some good friends. The ATI’s unique position in the sector has left me with a lot of interesting insights, particularly into the true size and nature of the aerospace supply chain, and a career in aerospace seems to be a promising proposition! I’ll be taking the knowledge and experience I’ve gained back to university with me and looking ahead to graduation, it’s been a great addition to my CV.

Signing off,

Lukas Alemu

The ATI’s Head of Strategy, Innovation and Engagement, Rachel Power, launched the Institute’s new event series Aero Guru on 23rd July 2019. In this blog we hear Rachel’s thoughts on Aero Guru, the first event for UK aerospace startups. 

Aero Guru, part of the ATI’s Innovation Strategy, is focused on helping startups solve their biggest challenges and test their solutions against some of the brightest brains in aerospace. The first Aero Guru event had three startups pitch to our panel of 14 gurus and to say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement. The startups were blown away by the laser-focused feedback and the unprecedented access to key influencers in the industry.

The event was open to all startups interested in the aerospace market and we were overwhelmed by the wide array who registered their interest. We selected three truly innovative startups who touched different aspects of the aircraft manufacturing journey, and curated a diverse panel of gurus with technical, senior management, strategy, investment and start-up development expertise.

The startups were:

  • MeshFlow – who pitched their novel AI solution for additive manufacturing
  • Meteor Power – presented their radical solutions for reducing drag on aircraft
  • Icomat – spoke about their patented approach for composite component manufacture.

Each of the startups had their own unique challenges. One company was only three months old and looking to aerospace for investment and opportunity, and another was looking to fund the next stage of their ambitious development. The very capable Aero Gurus were able bring unique insight to point each startup in the right direction, challenge their assumptions and offer connections to help them grow.

It wasn’t only the startups who benefited, which made the event truly special and unique. The Gurus came together as a community, bouncing ideas off each other, discussing collaborations and making a commitment to work together to develop the aerospace startup ecosystem.

Building a supportive ecosystem within aerospace for startups and enabling new technologies to grow is something I’m passionate about within my role at the ATI. The UK aerospace industry cannot sit back, wait for others to innovate and then follow.

As a world leader in aerospace, the UK is a hotbed for innovation and can lead in the next generation of air transport technologies. New entrants and emerging economies are challenging industry norms and we need collaboration across all participants in the industry to keep the UK driving the future of air transport.

Aero Guru aims to be one part of this supportive aerospace ecosystem and hopes to encourage further ambitious initiatives to emerge.

The next event will be on 10th September, followed by future events on a monthly basis.

If you are interested in getting involved either to pitch or as a Guru then register your interest by emailing

ATI’s Business Analyst Nikul Bhadasia and Strategy Intern Lukas Alemu round up the successful supplier event held recently.

The ATI held a joint E-Fan X Supplier event with Airbus at the AIRC (Aerospace Integration Research Centre) at Cranfield University on 17th July 2019. It was attended by approximately 120 people from over 80 different companies and academic institutions. It was a great opportunity for companies to learn more about the E-Fan X programme, discuss opportunities to work with Airbus and to network with others involved on the electrification journey.


Sarabpal Bhatia, E-Fan X R&T Co-ordinator

Sarabpal Bhatia, E-Fan X R&T Co-ordinator, Airbus, introduced the E-Fan X programme and an overview of the ATI’s funding support mechanisms was given by Tommy Edgar, ATI’s Strategic Portfolio Manager. Attendees were then able to network and engage in B2B discussions.

We created an interactive marketplace which covered four categories: Thermal Management & Cooling Installation, Batteries & Systems, Electrical Installation and Jigs & Tooling, which invited companies to discuss the challenges for electrification, potential solutions and reflect on where their capabilities fitted into the journey towards electrification.

ATI’s Head of Technology Mark Scully engaging with attendees at the marketplace

It was also an opportunity for attendees to engage with our team from the ATI regarding opportunities to get involved in the ATI Programme. After the event we were delighted to join the E-Fan X team for a tour around the demonstrator aircraft and hangar.

Projects like E-Fan X are pushing the boundaries of UK aerospace technology. Airbus’s hybridisation technology demonstrator is an important step forward in developing greener passenger aircraft, and it was great to see the excellent progress being made in the ATI-funded project. The ATI has a keen focus on sustainability-driven R&D – around 50% of our portfolio is in this area of technology development.

We are excited to see the future of hybrid aircraft being developed at Airbus and look forward to this and other projects in our portfolio advancing carbon-conscious aerospace development in the UK.


ATI’s Scott Pendry highlights some of the ATI’s views contained in the Institute’s recent response to the DfT Aviation 2050 green paper.

The DfT’s consultation on the future of aviation comes at an exciting time and we welcomed the paper. Arguably right now is an inflection point for air transport, a period when aviation is poised to go through the biggest change in fifty years as a result of aircraft designs and operating concepts enabled by new technologies including electric propulsion and the increased use of automation.  As a result of these changes, existing aircraft will not only become more efficient but new markets will be created, such as low-cost regional routes and urban/city air routes, which will take advantage of new aircraft designs.  It’s a hugely exciting time for aerospace – not only will these innovations improve connectivity, they will be enabled by technologies that are environmentally sustainable and, as my colleague Simon Weeks wrote recently, could benefit from significant ATI funding for improved environmental performance.

Given our role in establishing the Future Flight Challenge, our response talked extensively about the transformative impact the Challenge will have in considering, and ultimately developing, the infrastructure, policy and regulation required to incorporate new forms of electric, autonomous and unmanned aviation into the air transport system.  However, the consultation also gave us a few concerns – if we, the UK, really want to have a long-term aviation strategy out to 2050, we need to consider the infrastructure required to enable future air transport concepts and intermodality, concepts that will underpin the operation and commercial feasibility of new forms of air transport.

The key role of infrastructure

Connectivity is crucial to promoting regional growth and increased productivity, but new routes and markets won’t be created without the physical infrastructure required to enable new vehicles to take-off and land (either vertically or horizontally), charge and wait for passengers.

With the pace of electric aircraft development increasing, the Aviation 2050 Strategy needs to ensure that infrastructure development is in step with technology development, as failure to do so could stifle the development of new air transport operations in the UK.

For urban air mobility VTOL aircraft, a distributed network of ‘vertiports’ or ‘skyports’ (VTOL hubs with multiple take-off and landing pads, as well as charging infrastructure) or single-aircraft vertistops (a single VTOL pad with minimal infrastructure) is essential. Likewise, for conventional take-off and landing aircraft, a network of small airports and airfields, complete with suitable charging infrastructure and maintenance facilities is an absolute necessity.

A further infrastructure consideration is the provision of 5G communication networks which will allow the precise navigation that is needed for new aerial vehicles, many of which will be operated autonomously.

Intermodality – aviation should be an integral part of the future transport mix

New aircraft will only become a useful component of tomorrow’s mobility if they are integrated into the overall transport network of cities and regions – new urban and regional aircraft should be thought of within the context of multi-modal transport solutions.

It’s therefore important that the final Aviation 2050 paper recognises that new skyports and smaller airports/airfields should also be treated as connectivity hubs, ready for multimodal journeys to and from destinations which might also involve a pooled car, bus or rail journey at either end.

Electrification and automation – a growing focus of the ATI

We’re working with established organisations in the sector, as well as more disruptive companies from outside the sector, to identify new projects which will position the UK as a world leader in the development of electric and autonomous aircraft. The E-Fan X is one of our most high-profile projects and, thanks to the Paris Airshow, is now gaining a significant amount of media attention.

There are many more projects like E-Fan X that we are keen to support and we want to work with companies of all sizes who have innovative ideas that will keep the UK competitive.

To read the ATI’s response to the DfT in full, please click here.

Our thanks to Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer of the Institute, for this blog.

The ATI was delighted to see the recent joint commitment of seven CTOs from the world’s largest commercial aviation manufacturers to work to reduce the net CO2 emissions from aviation. They are on the way to meet the near-term targets set out by the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for Aviation (CORSIA). Having played a leading role in the definition of the broader EU Flightpath 2050 environmental impact goals in 2011, I was also really pleased to see their renewed commitment to those too. At the Paris Air Show, where the announcement was made, I had the opportunity to meet with some of these industry leaders and hear their intent directly.

One of the major themes of the ATI’s UK aerospace technology strategy and associated technology programmes, including the Future Flight Challenge, is improved environmental performance; around half of the ATI Programme investment is directly concerned with this. In the UK, our leading technological capabilities in wings, propulsion and systems will make a large contribution to improving environmental performance in the coming years. With the UK government’s commitment for zero net carbon by 2050, the ATI is working with industry and academia to develop a route map for aviation’s contribution.

For wings, we see opportunities to improve the overall fuel efficiency and hence CO2 emissions of aircraft by reducing aerodynamic drag and ‘lightweighting’ using advanced composites. Lightweight composite structures technologies will enable airframers to produce longer, thinner wings for better aerodynamic efficiency. Research on ways to actively enhance laminar low drag flow across wings is already well advanced. Ultimately, we would like to enable structures to reshape themselves, morphing through a flight to further optimise aerodynamics.

On jet engines, ultra-high bypass engine technologies will improve propulsive, aerodynamic and thermodynamic efficiencies, reducing fuel consumption. In the future, electrification of propulsion offers the prospect of simultaneous production of thrust alongside enhancing airframe aerodynamics.

Work on aircraft systems technologies is aimed at making them ever more energy efficient and lighter. Software defined systems will reduce the number and weight of avionics units in an aircraft. Systems will progressively become all-electric, improving the aircraft energy efficiency.

Electrified propulsion, hybrid for longer ranges and all-electric for shorter ranges is heralding in the so-called ‘third age’ of aviation, with the prospect of new markets for urban and sub-regional aviation. With the right integration of technologies at the air vehicle level, there is the real prospect of zero net carbon flight from the outset for these exciting developments.

Achieving zero net carbon flight will need technologies on aircraft and across other areas that impact the carbon emissions from the aviation industry. New sustainable manufacturing technologies will reduce factory carbon emissions and require dramatically less raw materials. We will need to make the flight patterns of aircraft shorter and more energy-efficient through the development and application of new ways of managing air traffic. Technologies for low-carbon impact drop-in fuels – both bio-derived and synthetic – need to be accelerated. Electrified aviation will need zero net carbon electricity from land-based power generation. The UK is world leading in these areas and hence has every opportunity to make progress on both national and international stages.

Going forward, the ATI will be regularly highlighting the progress being made on aviation’s journey to lower environmental impact. If you have any ideas of areas where we could be doing more to help, please let me know!

Photo: © Airbus

Our thanks to William McClintock, Strategy Associate at the ATI and author of the Global Aerospace Patents INSIGHT, for this blog.

The UK Parliament’s declaration of a “climate emergency” is welcome news. The battle against climate change is being taken more seriously, spurred on by growing public feeling on the issue. The recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publication suggests that to achieve a net-zero emission Britain, aviation would become ~50% of total UK household emissions by 2050. Rightly, the report emphasises the huge technological challenge of reducing aviation emissions. A more detailed technical study commissioned by the Department for Transport titled Understanding the potential and costs for reducing UK aviation emissions supports this point.

We should take on these technical obstacles, not be defeated by them. Aerospace has a track record of challenging the limits of engineering, driving technological progress that can be exploited more broadly. Economically, the impact of aerospace R&D is twice as great outside the sector than it is within. This underscores the importance of the sector in boosting IP, knowledge and skills in general – things we will need if we are to tackle the climate problem by moving forward, not backwards.

Rising to the climate challenge brings fresh opportunity for innovation in sustainable technology and the generation of world leading IP. Aerospace can drive forward advancement in light weighting, thermodynamic efficiency, electrification and AI, to name a few, like few other sectors can. Our recent Global Aerospace Patents INSIGHT reveals the dramatic global trends in aerospace towards electrification, advanced light-weight materials and near-net-shape manufacturing in a race to secure competitive IP that reduces environmental impact, cost exposure and gains competitive advantage.

Figure One: Global aerospace patent trends show a surge in electrical power system IP. (Source: ATI Global Aerospace Patent INSIGHT). 

Breakthroughs in battery technology, fuelled so far by automotive opportunities, have spiked excitement in urban air transport concepts through technical viability of electric vertical take-off (eVOTL) and sub-regional aircraft – a potentially disruptive technology push. ATI patent analysis evaluated clear trends demonstrating this surge eVTOL technology development globally. Therefore, electric aviation may enable a more distributed aviation network through reduced operating costs, alleviating ground transportation in the long term, and progressing safe zero-emission technology for larger commercial aircraft in the short term.

Figure Two: eVTOL related patents accelerates beyond conventional technology patents. (Source: ATI Global Aerospace Patent INSIGHT).

Both reducing environmental impact and raising UK competitiveness through IP creation underpin our investments in aerospace research and technology. 70% of the portfolio of ATI projects contains the objectives to reduce environmental impact and increase fuel efficiency with over £930m of total ATI project cost has been invested directly in these key objectives.

ATI analysis of the global aerospace patent landscape reveals the increasingly global nature of the supply chain and intense competition for securing valuable IP. However, the UK has been slower than other nations to protect IP in the expanding far east. Generally, large multinational aerospace incumbents are responding to emerging opportunities by protecting IP in countries such as China, Korea and India, whilst equally attempting to mitigate the threat to future market share. Also, given the size of the UK aerospace industry, it also makes a relatively small contribution to the global aerospace patent scene. However, the perceived quality of UK patents is thought to be amongst the highest measured.

The ATI has also produced INSIGHT papers on Electrical Power Systems technology, Additive Manufacturing, Composites and many more which all contribute to the vision of sustainable air transport. A future ATI INSIGHT will look at aircraft autonomy, considered central to streamlining aircraft operations and making further efficiency savings.

The UK air transport industry generates £35bn of revenue, 90% of which is exported, equating to over £10bn in value-add to the UK economy. The ATI remains committed to growing this high-value industry whilst driving sustainability which, we believe, coalesce seamlessly into a single positive vision for the future of UK air transport; implemented through thought leadership and strategic technology investment. Ultimately, generating intellectual property ahead of competition that increases long lasting UK competitive prospects. 

ATI’s Technologist, Nour Eid, reports from presenting at Aerotech Americas and the opportunity to see the Boeing 787 FAL.

Last month I travelled to Charleston, South Carolina, for SAE Aerotech Americas where I presented an overview of how the ATI is exploring the potential of disruptive technologies, some recent technological innovations in UK aerospace and how the UK is shaping the future of flight. The overall theme of the conference was “Shaping the Future of Aerospace” and many of the keynotes and technical sessions explored some of the innovations that are taking place across the pond.

Dr Greg Hyslop at Aerotech Americas

Before the conference kicked off, I started off the week with a tour of Boeing’s 787 final assembly line in North Charleston. The engineers who showed us around the facility were proud of the fact that the site is unique in manufacturing components “from freezer to flight – raw composite materials are stored in freezers until they are needed for production, then they are manufactured, assembled on to the aircraft and flown away by the customer. The facility mostly assembles the 787-10 variant (the longest of the 787 family) but also manufactures aft-body and mid-body sections for fuselages of all 787 variants. I was lucky enough to spot a 747 Dreamlifter taking-off full of components, en route to Boeing’s Everett facility where the rest of the 787 family is built.

The conference kicked off on Tuesday. Two notable presentations were from Dr Greg Hyslop, Boeing’s Chief Technology Officer, and Jason Chua, Executive Director of United Technologies Advanced Projects.

Hyslop gave an update on the 777X, the latest of Boeing’s long-range family. The aircraft is unique in that the 65m wingspan has a folding wingtip which allows it to fit into the same airport gates as existing 777 aircraft. The 777X is due to take-off on its first test flight later this year. Hyslop also spoke of Boeing’s partnership with Aerion to build a 12-passenger supersonic business jet, with the first aircraft planned to fly in 2023.

Regardless of the technology, new innovations in aerospace are about increasing the value of time – Dr Greg Hyslop, Boeing CTO

Jason Chua unveiled United Technology’s Project 804. This flight demonstrator aims to re-engine one side of a Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft with a 2MW hybrid-electric propulsion system, comprising a 1MW gas turbine and 1MW electric motor. The ‘804’ in Project 804 refers to the straight-line mileage between Pratt & Whitney’s (P&W) site in Longueuil, Quebec and Collins Aerospace’s site in Rockford Illinois; both instrumental in providing propulsion and systems expertise to the project. The project will accelerate the development of key components in a similar fashion to Airbus and Rolls Royce’s eFAN-x demonstrator – a project which has been supported by the ATI.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) also featured quite heavily throughout the conference with Boeing, NASA, Spirit and P&W all presenting opportunities offered by metal powder bed and large scale direct energy deposition processes.

It was great to see that the AM technologies being developed in America are on par with the major AM projects that are taking place here in the UK (DRAMA and OAAM to name but two).

There were also several presentations on urban mobility and “unlocking the z-dimension”. A particular highlight was a panel discussion on this topic chaired by Mark Moore, Engineering Director at Uber Elevate. You can watch the session here.

I presented an overview of some recent innovations in UK aerospace, how the ATI is cultivating an environment to develop disruptive technologies and how the UK is shaping the future of flight. I was delighted to see a high level of representation from the UK. Colleagues from Cranfield University, the MTC, University of Nottingham and the AMRC were all in Charleston and they presented some of their great research in manufacturing, assembly and digitalisation.

Overall, a fantastic conference and a brilliant opportunity to see what technologies are being developed internationally.

Mark Scully, our Head of Technology for Propulsion & Advanced Systems, gives his view on the UK Technology and Capability Showcase for Collins Aerospace, held last month in Charlotte, NC 25-27th March.

A number of UK SMEs from the supply chain were hosted by the Collins Aerospace group as part of a trade mission to encourage inward investment into the UK.

Organised by the UK Government’s Department for International Trade (DIT), it gave an opportunity for UK suppliers to meet with Collins Aerospace and discuss potential business opportunities. Paolo Dal Cin, Vice President, Operations & Quality, gave us an introduction to the company which was followed by a briefing by Kris Pinnow, Vice President, Global Strategic Sourcing, on Collins Aerospace’s supplier engagement processes and expectations.

A closed session was also held between ATI, BEIS, DIT and the Leadership team from Collins Aerospace to describe the UK innovation ecosystem and wider UK policy. A panel session was held on UK Industrial Strategy and the Aerospace Sector Deal, with insights from John Thompson, Head of Aerospace at DIT, Greg Warren, Senior Policy Advisor at BEIS, and myself.

Throughout the day the UK supply chain companies held B2B meetings with representatives from across the Collins Aerospace group. Parallel sessions between ATI and Collins Aerospace Supply Chain teams also identified a number of potential technology project opportunities through Collins Aerospace businesses in the UK.

ATI will be following up on these leads to explore and develop collaborative opportunities. Since the event a number of UK companies have already indicated some progress following the initial meetings and we look forward to further developments in the future.

The trade mission also gave Greg Warren and I a chance to visit Collins Aerospace’s Rockford facility to discuss UK opportunities for electrification technology. This was a particularly timely visit following the announcement the day before regarding the United Technologies X-Plane demonstrator.

We met several members of the senior team including Bill Dolan, Vice President Engineering for the Power & Controls Business Unit, Juan De Bedout, Vice President Advanced Technologies & Effectiveness and Todd Spierling, Director of Research & Technology for the Power & Controls Business Unit. Joining us from the UK Power & Controls R&T Centre were Joshua Parkin, Director of Technology and Marc Holme, Engineering Director. We promoted the UK as a great opportunity for Collins Aerospace’s ambitions in electrification. We were delighted to be given a site tour which included some impressive research and test facilities to support electrical systems development. ATI and BEIS plan to follow up with Collins Aerospace to identify and develop any potential opportunities for growth in the UK.

For more information on the United Technologies X-Plane Demonstrator:—March-2019—Final.pdf

Participating UK suppliers included:

  • Bradfor Ltd
  • Broadway Engineering Ltd
  • CCP Gransden Ltd
  • Cecence
  • Columbia
  • Denroy Plastics
  • Exact CNC
  • GKN Aerospace
  • IPC
  • Marshall
  • McBraida
  • Nasmyth Group Ltd
  • Neural Digital
  • Poeton industries
  • Portsmouth Aviation Ltd
  • Resonate Testing
  • Senior Aerospace BWT
  • Smiths Harlow
  • Thales
  • Tods Aerospace
  • Trackwise
  • TT Electronics
  • Vesarien
  • WL Gore

It’s been another busy week at the ATI for Scott Pendry, Head of International R&D and Policy Engagement. Find out what Scott has been up to this week as he reflects on the many plates he keeps spinning. 

Starting the week in Sweden

Monday-Wednesday saw Simon Weeks and me visit Sweden for meetings with GKN Engines Systems in Trollhättan, Saab aeronautics in Linköping  and the Swedish government in Stockholm. ‘Why are you off to Sweden again?’ …is a question I’m often asked by friends and family. Put simply, Sweden punches above its weight when it comes to innovation and is a country that is very good at advancing aerospace technology. There’s a huge amount of Saab components on Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and over 30% of the Gripen fighter comes from UK suppliers. In addition, GKN Engine Systems are on 90% of commercial aircraft programmes. Clearly, there’s a lot of potential there and we have found that carefully considered international collaboration can help both countries’ aerospace sectors.

We’ve had a lot of meetings with the Swedes over the last few years and some of the connections we have facilitated have resulted in some very good collaborations, not least the Cranfield University/Saab link up to create the UK’s first digital control tower.

The recent joint UK-Sweden funding call has been another very good way to further bilateral collaboration and in the coming weeks several projects will be announced covering areas that will benefit the UK supply chain, along with UK primes.

During our visit, GKN and Saab provided us with useful information about their future R&T plans and we were able to probe as to how their plans relate to Raising Ambition.

While individual bilateral opportunities are small compared with the vast European Framework Programmes (which contains all the Airbus countries as well as other leading aerospace nations such as Italy and the Netherlands) the global nature of the industry means it’s important to foster direct country to country R&D relationships and the ATI programme is a very attractive proposition to attract inward investment. In addition to Sweden we are developing promising collaborations with Canada and the USA, drawing on experience of collaborating with our European partners through EU R&D programmes.

Thursday – talking about the ATI at the Inside Government ‘Investing in Aerospace’ conference

Most of us at the ATI are often out and about and regularly speaking at conferences. On Thursday it was my turn and I spoke on a panel at the Inside Government conference on investing in aerospace.

It was a good opportunity to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing the sector and the role the ATI is playing in keeping the UK at the forefront of technology innovation.

I particularly enjoyed talking about the potential for disruption and the opportunities that go with it which will often involve working together with non-traditional aerospace companies and start-ups.

Friday… a shift of focus to domestic UK issues

The government’s Aviation Strategy consultation occupied a large part of Friday. The ATI’s expertise in technology innovation means we have a lot to say in response to the paper and it will be a good opportunity to reference the Future Flight Challenge and how it is developing. Some of the areas we will comment on include the infrastructure required to enable future air transport concepts and the importance of focussing on intermodality. Both of these areas will underpin the operation and commercial feasibility of new aircraft.

In summary – a good and varied week and a chance to look at future opportunities for the UK.

November is a busy month for UK aerospace sector statistics; the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes both the Annual Business Survey (ABS) and data on Business Enterprise Research and Development (BERD). Both reveal significant information on the structural health of the UK aerospace sector for the previous calendar year – 2017. The ATI analyses these key ONS datasets to understand what official national statistics reveal about the current state of the UK aerospace sector.

The overall trend for the UK aerospace sector is broadly encouraging:

  • UK aerospace turnover, value added, and productivity have all been rising on average at around 4-5% per year since 2008; as is investment in research and development and capital equipment.
  • The UK aerospace sector is highly productive with almost £100,000 of output per worker, capital and R&D intensive with greater 10% of value added reinvested and export focused with around 90% of output exported overseas – a jewel in the crown of the UK manufacturing sector.

In this article, several interesting findings from the ONS data are reviewed and discussed.

The rise of aerospace micro businesses
Business population data from ONS, reveals an increase in the number of UK aerospace manufacturing businesses to around 850 by the end of 2016. Around 700 are micro businesses, each employing fewer than 10 people. In fact, since 2008 the number of UK micro aerospace businesses has nearly trebled!

So what is driving this level of increase in UK micro aerospace businesses? It could be better measurement by ONS, i.e. the identification or classification of a greater number of micro businesses to the aerospace sector. It could be that there are a greater number of start-up businesses in the UK aerospace manufacturing sector. Some evidence from around the world and in the UK, does point towards an increase in disruptive innovation and a rise in aerospace start-up businesses.

Peter Willis, Senior Economist at the ATI, said:

Whatever the reason, the UK now accounts for almost half of the active aerospace manufacturing businesses in Europe. This is a potential growth opportunity for the UK, if these businesses can successfully grow and scale-up. The ATI is exploring options on how to best support start-up, scale-up and small business innovation

The continued rise of aerospace repair and maintenance
Part of the growth in the UK aerospace sector economic activity continues to be in the repair and maintenance segment. UK value added for aircraft repair and maintenance is up 25% since 2015, whereas it is roughly flat for aircraft manufacture. Aircraft repair and maintenance now makes up nearly 25% of UK aerospace value added (up from 15% in 2009) and is 60% more productive than aircraft manufacture – likely to be at least in part due to the relatively high margins and continued services revenues available. ATI has published a Through-Life Engineering Services (TES) Technology Strategy for the UK Aerospace Sector to identify the opportunities of transitioning to TES, and the technologies and capabilities required.

The fall in aerospace R&D expenditure
The latest figures from ONS for UK expenditure on aerospace R&D shows a 20% decline in 2017 versus 2016. However, in many ways, a fall in civil aerospace R&D is not surprising based on the market cycle. ATI’s recent INSIGHT Paper, The Evolving Aerospace R&D Landscape, illustrates some of the driving forces behind aerospace R&D much of which is linked to major product development. Entry to service for several big programmes including Airbus A220, A320NEO, A330NEO, A350-1000, Boeing 787-10 and 737MAX, in recent years, marks the start of a quieter period of R&D for the global industry.

James McMicking, the ATI’s Chief Strategy Officer, said:

This presents a challenge to maintaining engineering capabilities until new product development programmes are launched. In the background, UK aerospace is continuing to invest in future technologies that will shape the next generation of aircraft.

The divergence between turnover and value added
Finally, this statistics review has once again highlighted a continued divergence between growth in UK aerospace manufacturing turnover and value added. UK aerospace manufacturing turnover has grown at more than 6% per year since 2008, whereas value added has only averaged 3.5% annual growth. (The recent downward revisions in aerospace value added have made this trend more apparent once more).

Peter Willis said:

Previous ATI blogs have discussed this issue – and one explanation for it may be greater purchases of imported materials and components. This is a missed opportunity for the UK aerospace supply chain and means that the UK aerospace sector is probably growing more slowly than the global aerospace market and losing some market share.

This finding is supported by a previous study by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Strategy on the aerospace supply chain. That study showed the UK share of aerospace procurement by major aerospace companies has been falling, compared to supply chain procurement in the rest of the world.

There are several aerospace sector initiatives all aimed at tackling these issues in the UK aerospace supply chain. Continued support of SC21 (21st Century Supply Chains), Sharing in Growth (SiG), NATEP (National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme) and the Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) Supply Chain Charter, by the Aerospace Sector Deal, will be helpful in improving UK competitiveness.

For its part, the ATI is actively seeking opportunities to join some of the UK’s leading aerospace organisations with ambitious small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) for research and technology projects. ATI is open to direct engagement with ambitious small companies looking to participate in or lead ATI projects aimed at the most challenging strategic technologies facing the sector.