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:  https://tech.utc.com/-/media/Project/UTRC/UTRC-Intranet/Technology/Tech-Website/UTAP/A-Technical-Analysis-of-United-Technologies-Advanced-Projects-X-Plane—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.

The aeronautics sector is essential for developed countries, not only for design, production and operation of competitive aircraft but also for creating a highly-skilled workforce and technology transfer to other sectors. In a globalized world there is a strong need for strategic cooperation in this very competitive field between countries with similar political agendas and background.

The Swedish aeronautics actors within research and innovation are delighted that a joint call between UK and Sweden has now materialized after long preparations on technical content, funding and procedure.

Our two countries have a long tradition of cooperation in aeronautics, both in the military and civil domains, with Swedish companies delivering parts to Rolls-Royce and Airbus in the civil sector and many British companies delivering components and systems to the Swedish fighter aircraft Gripen.

Discussions between the ATI and Innovair started a couple of years ago, with a focus on understanding the other country’s long-term strategies. Thereafter, a Swedish delegation visited various UK facilities including the ATI headquarters, catapult centres, and industries and research centres within universities. A British return visit to Sweden brought high-level representatives from the leading aeronautics companies and meetings were organized with their Swedish counter parts.

British excellence in the aeronautics sector is well known and our partners are looking forward to increased cooperation between our two countries, with the aim of expanding relations between OEMs and Tier 1 supply chain companies, but also to fostering more intense involvement by SMEs. By working together, both countries will be gaining access to skills, facilities and infrastructure that might not be available to them individually – it is a ‘win win’ for both the UK and Swedish aerospace sectors.

On a personal note, I like to thank all our colleagues at ATI, Innovate UK and BEIS, as well as Vinnova, the Swedish Innovation Agency, for helping to create the funding call.

Dr Anders Blom is Programme Director for Innovair, Sweden’s strategic innovation programme for aeronautics. The ATI would like to thank Dr Blom for this guest blog.

To learn more about the UK-Sweden funding call, please visit here.

An information and matchmaking event will take place in Stockholm on 7th September – more details are here.

The ATI and Innovair, the Swedish programme for aeronautics, together with delivery partners Innovate UK and Vinnova, have launched a new UK-Sweden joint funding call for aerospace R&D projects.

The call, operated under the EUREKA Network Projects programme, has been developed to foster industry-led collaborative R&D projects between the UK and Swedish to advance both countries’ aerospace industries. UK organisations can apply for a share of up to £2.25 million to develop aerospace technology in partnership with Swedish companies.

Applicants are expected to develop projects that have strong market potential for the UK and Sweden and all applications must be guided by the respective aerospace strategies of the UK and Sweden: the UK Aerospace Research & Technology Programme strategy (Raising Ambition) and the Swedish aeronautical research and innovation agenda (NRIA Flyg), respectively.

Project ideas are welcome to come forward covering all aspects of civil aerospace and aeronautics. Projects should demonstrate alignment to the national aerospace strategies of the UK and Sweden, which includes structures, materials, systems, propulsion, manufacturing processes, and through-life engineering services.

The call was announced at the Farnborough International Airshow, and the Institute was honoured to be joined Sweden’s Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Torbjörn Sohlström, to mark the occasion.

Stephen Henwood CBE, Chairman of the Aerospace Technology Institute, said:

This call is the result of discussions over the last two years. Collaborating across borders is not straightforward.  Organisations such as the ATI are, after all, set up to benefit the national economy. I am sure the same is true on the Swedish side. But this preparatory work has shown us clearly that, done properly, there is absolutely a prize to be won through working together.

Our teams have worked from a strong base of previous collaboration, shared their strategic goals, explored in detail where mutual interest lies, developed a deep knowledge of the capabilities in both countries, and made the case. They have designed a call to have a catalysing effect – facilitating new relationships, accelerating technology development in mutually important areas, creating new supply chains, and increasing competitiveness in both countries.

The UK’s Ambassador to Sweden, His Excellency David Cairns, provided some words of welcome for the new initiative:

“For two countries such as Britain and Sweden our economic development depends on high-quality research, innovation, technology, development, and collaboration, and in perhaps no sector is this more important than aerospace. I hope that through this joint funding call, both our countries will close gaps in capability, gain access to new partners, bolster existing capability, and encourage greater levels of trade and investment between both our countries.”

The call is now open, and will close at noon on Wednesday 24th October 2018.

For more details, and to register and apply, please visit the Innovate UK (here) or the EUREKA (here) web sites.

Image above: His Excellency Torbjörn Sohlström (L) and Stephen Henwood CBE at Farnborough International Airshow.

Radical changes are coming to the aerospace sector – we will see the sector more closely integrated into the wider transportation sector, enabling highly efficient, environmentally friendly, quiet and seamless multi-modal transport and mobility. The UK has the ambition, technological innovation and world-class research capabilities to lead this revolution, making history once again. We pioneered the jet engine to change the face of air travel internationally, and once again we will be central to transforming urban and regional air transport.

To achieve this ambition, the UK needs a strong partnership between aircraft manufacturers and designers, airline businesses, airport and airspace providers, research organisations, academia and Government. The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) has taken the initiative to build that partnership and lead it on behalf of the aviation sector to develop the expression of interest for the Amy Johnson Challenge of ‘Advancing Mobility Through Flight’. The Amy Johnson Challenge aims to enable the development of technologies, systems, infrastructures, operations, policies and regulations that will provide the foundation of a more electric, highly autonomous integrated aviation system for the future of mobility.


The combination of electrification and autonomy will enable new mobility concepts, such as autonomous electric vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) for application in areas such as urban air transport. These vehicles would compete with traditional taxis and other urban transport; all-electric propulsion would be much cheaper than conventional means of powering aircraft and offer zero emissions for low urban impact; autonomy would enable operation in crowded urban environments for accessibility. Small all-electric sub-regional fixed-wing aircraft, exploiting small regional airports, could transport up to 20 people cleanly, efficiently and cost effectively against land-based transport modes. Larger aircraft could adopt hybrid turbo-electric power and propulsion systems for higher fuel efficiency. These examples illustrate how the electrification of aircraft systems combined with autonomy have the potential to create new aerospace market segments, as well as enabling significant efficiency improvements in established segments – they all create significant supply chain opportunities in the UK.

Looking ahead

The Institute is publishing an INSIGHT paper on Electrical Power Systems – the ATI’s seventh paper in the series. The document will discuss the increasing importance of electrical power systems in current and future commercial aircraft, and identify new market sectors that are dependent on enhanced technologies for such systems. The paper will enable wider consultation on electrical power systems in support of future updates to the ATI’s technology strategy, Raising Ambition.

Copies of the INSIGHT paper will be available on the ATI’s stand at the Farnborough Airshow later this month (16th – 22nd July)- come and find us in Hall 3, in the Innovation, at stand 3694.

Mark Scully, ATI’s Head of Technology for Advanced Systems and Propulsion said:

Electrification and the development of more electrical aircraft are a key focus for the ATI. We are seeing developments being accelerated in this area across the sector. The UK industry is well placed to take advantage of the more electric, or all electric aircraft and novel electric propulsion systems, supported by investment in technology development.

Electric and autonomous aircraft have tremendous opportunity to impact the future of mobility and the productivity of the UK, particularly in urban and regional transportation. The ATI is specifically looking at developments and technologies that will support more autonomous or fully autonomous, and electric and hybrid-electric aircraft of the future.

The Institute will continue to convene industry, research technology organisations and academia to develop and deliver electrical power systems technology to maximise UK economic value.

As we have heard, the North West has one of the most important clusters of aerospace activity in the UK – over 20 per cent of the overall industry. That is a remarkable achievement.
But the question I want to pose today is how we make sure that the North West, and the UK as a whole, retains its position in the global industry.

A snapshot today reveals plenty to be cheerful about – the UK has the second largest aerospace industry in the world, after the US; order books are full, and the market is expected to continue growing at around 4.5 per cent every year.
Of course, this creates challenges of scaling up; it reveals skills shortages and production bottlenecks. And puts a strain on the supply chain. But the solid market fundamentals are very important.

Not that everything is rosy. The obvious challenges are Brexit, increased competition from China and other countries, and environmental pressures.

Apart from these external pressures, there is also the $64,000 question about what the next moves within the industry will be. As you know better than I, when the product mix changes the entire industry responds, and there are winners and losers in that process, locked in or out, often for long periods of time.

We all therefore await with interest the possible launch of a new middle of the market aircraft and the effect that may have on the industry. And looking further ahead, the possibility of radical new aircraft designs, hybrid-electric propulsion, autonomous or nearly autonomous flight, and disruptive concepts such as urban air taxis. All accompanied by a raft of transformative events in the worlds of engineering and manufacturing.

What is the ATI’s role in preparing and positioning the UK for this future? I know that many of you already know this, so I won’t dwell on it too long. Fundamentally, we have two roles:
• Firstly, to create a technology strategy for UK civil aerospace; and
• Secondly, to develop a portfolio of R&D activity that will make the strategy come true.

The strategy is market-led; it aims to anticipate market needs in the short, medium and long terms, and to translate those into technology requirements. We focus on areas of UK strength, such as propulsion, structures, and systems.

We also devote time and resource to the whole aircraft, even though we no longer make large civil aircraft in the UK.

We do this because we believe that if we are to continue producing large and critical components and systems, we need to understand how they integrate into whole aircraft physically, and what effect they have on the whole aircraft performance.

Do look at the strategy, called Raising Ambition. It is available on our website, and – I would say this – it is packed full of insight and information. Some of you here helped us write it, which is of course why it is so good.

We have bolstered the overall strategy in recent months with some more focused publications on digital technologies, through-life engineering, product verification, emerging systems technologies, and emerging propulsion technologies.

Moving onto the technology portfolio, so far, we have launched almost £2bn worth of research and development projects. The concept of committing a large sum of money for the long term is proving its worth.
Major companies are responding to the certainty it provides by committing to large, ambitious and strategic projects which should create the building blocks for future success, at least for the medium term.

Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan programme marks a step change in gas turbine performance. Airbus’ wing of tomorrow is exploring a series of design possibilities enabled, or driven by, new materials, different engine configurations, manufacturing demands, and the constant search for improved aerodynamics. GE and BAE Systems are working up new cockpit concepts for the future flight deck, and GKN is driving forward new approaches to structures and manufacturing, mainly in composites and additive manufacturing.

So far so positive. After just over three years of operation, however, we can see what is working well and where some tweaks to the ATI model may be in order.

This is not just a matter of comparing our progress against the mission we were given at the outset, although that is clearly part of it. In addition, we have to take stock of changes in the sector and in the outlook for the future.
To take one example, when we started out in 2014, it was expected that a new single aisle aircraft was fairly imminent. But that has moved to the right. Other things have happened in the single aisle world, with upgrades rather than replacements. There is the focus on the middle of the market, as I mentioned earlier, but that is a different proposition from the new single aisle envisaged five years ago.

Similarly, nobody took aerial air taxis particularly seriously in 2014. Now they do. Indeed, the two major technology areas of electrification and autonomy have recently taken much more prominent roles in the thinking about the future.
What does this mean for the ATI? We have seen that whilst interest in developing technologies for the short and medium terms is very strong, there has so far been much less interest in developing technology for the longer term – the more disruptive and speculative technologies which could be connected to the moves towards electrification and autonomy, that I mentioned a moment ago, or could be other things.

We are keen to do something about this. Nobody knows when the next major shift in aircraft technology will take place, but if we assume that it happens in the 2030s, the UK needs to start preparing itself now. There is a lot to do. In basic science, in safety, in aircraft configurations, and in manufacturing.
We are therefore casting the net widely on how to better support disruptive innovation, and how to attract the best of it into the UK.
We are looking at what other countries are doing, analysing innovation support mechanisms, the role of academia, and successful disruptive ecosystems.

A lot of our work on disruption will be with other people and organisations. Universities and other institutes are the main specialists in early stage research. But the ATI expects to play an important role in catalysing activity that would not otherwise take place, coordinating groups of interest – or even competitors – and ensuring alignment between technology and the market.

We will also not forget the need to advance with more immediate priorities. Whilst we all want to succeed in the markets of the further future, we need to address the issues of the present and the near future in order to tackle the long term at all.
More work on longer-term technology is therefore one important area for us, and as you may be aware, the ATI has recently fronted two expressions of interest into the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund – one on high value design, called the Brunel challenge; and one on electrification in air transport. [more on these?]

A related but separate issue is the supply chain. You will have noticed when I gave examples of ATI-supported research earlier that I focused on big building-block projects led by companies at top of the supply chain – Airbus UK, Rolls-Royce, GE, GKN etc.
I make no apology for that – it is important to anchor major, complex systems and components in the UK and to provide a firm footing for the rest of the industry here.

But there are many reasons to want the whole supply chain engaged in innovation, not just the top tiers.
Firstly, the top tier companies want an innovative and competitive supply chain, to maximise day to day operational performance.

Secondly, I mentioned earlier that dramatic changes in engineering and manufacturing are on their way – new materials, additive layer manufacturing etc; the entire supply chain needs to be able to respond to those changes to remain competitive.

Thirdly, it is becoming apparent that some of the newest, most disruptive technologies are likely to come from the supply chain, not from Primes.

Fourthly, there is a general economic point about spreading innovation as far as possible throughout the economy – innovation accounts for around 40 per cent of economic growth, so promoting it further in a sector like yours where productivity is so high relative to the rest of the economy has clear advantages.

You may wonder how much supply chain engagement there is in the ATI portfolio. It is a difficult question to answer, since strictly speaking the entire UK aerospace sector is in the supply chain – in the absence of a UK Prime. However, to take an imperfect approximation, the number of SMEs, there are around 120 involved in our projects, out of a total number of 217 organisations.

And there will be more who are active as subcontractors but may be unknown to us.
However, it is also the case that many of those SMEs are involved with us not because they are consortium members of our strategic projects, but because they applied for support in one of the open R&D calls that we have run.
For whatever reason, we see few applications from the supply chain outside of bespoke initiatives aimed at them. This is a pity.

There is nothing to stop supply chain companies, or groups of companies, from pitching propositions to us, and I hope more will do so.
The ATI is already fully engaged in working with the supply chain through NATEP – known to many of you, I know, but if you are not familiar with it, it stands for the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme. We have just closed a second NATEP call under the ATI, the eighth call for NATEP overall, and the applications will now go into the scrutiny process in the regions before a final decision is taken on the successful projects in the summer.

ATI took on NATEP for a trial period of two years and with a budget of £8m. One clear signal we have received from NATEP is that demand for it is high. This has resulted in our using the budget faster, and we are therefore already beginning to consider whether and how to roll the programme forward into a further phase.
NATEP, it is worth stressing, is designed to help companies that are new to R&D. Projects are small – up to £150,000; companies are supported by technology managers, they receive significant amounts of feedback from industry peers in the regional advisory panels, and they are supported by an end user company which is interested in exploiting the resulting technology.

Once companies know the R&D ropes, however, NATEP is inappropriate. We are therefore thinking about how best to encourage companies that start off down the R&D route to continue to innovate.
I think it is well known that the ATI is considering a further open collaborative R&D call in 2018. We have in mind a call for projects that are larger than NATEP – above £300,000, but below £2m gross. We want to make it quite focused, concentrating on stimulating particular outcomes for the sector and the UK economy.

That is partly about the technologies it should cover, and we are consulting on those with a wide range of industry advisors. It is also partly about the time period for the technology. At one end of the spectrum, we want to encourage industry leaders to clarify the technologies they want the supply chain to develop – primarily perhaps ideas that improve products and operations and reduce costs.

At the other end of the spectrum, we want to encourage companies to come forward with ideas for disruptive technologies. I mentioned before that we are trying to encourage more R&D activity in that space. We also want to test the proposition that much disruptive technology is likely to come from the supply chain.
And we want to give supply chain companies with radical ideas a way of bringing those ideas on.
So that is a brief glimpse into the plans we are working up at the moment. I hope we will be able to bring these to fruition later this year.

In conclusion, therefore, the ATI programme has been operating for almost five years. It has established a set of large ambitious programmes in the UK’s main areas of strength to position the industry for the anticipated next stage of progress. It is turning its attention more to disruption and to stimulating more innovation in the supply chain. NATEP has demonstrated a high level of interest and helped a number of companies and impressive technologies get off the ground. We are discussing another round of NATEP calls. We are also working up a plan for an open collaborative call later this year that could cover both the near term and/or future-looking disruptive technologies. But don’t feel you have to wait for this. The ATI programme is open to all. If you have an idea, please come and talk to us.

We would like to thank Geraldina Iraheta, Director, Business Development at Digital Catapult for writing a guest blog for the Institute.

Look to the skies in the UK and if you can see an unobstructed blue canvas for more than five minutes, without an aircraft passing overhead, buy a lottery ticket. The UK aerospace industry is booming. In fact, it’s the largest in Europe and second only to the US, with its trade association, ADS Group, reporting sales in the sector of £31.8bn last year – up 8% on the previous 12-month period1.

Why the boom?
The worldwide economy is growing and there are now more economically empowered people travelling more frequently. This scenario of course places massive pressure on Airlines and their supply chain to continue expanding and upgrading fleets to cope with this burgeoning demand. Testimony of this is the fact that Boeing is predicting growth to $5.2tn of aircraft orders over the next 20 years.

Sounds simple enough but it’s not, because, as always, such exponential growth doesn’t come without its associated growing pains. Aerospace OEMs are scrambling to meet this dramatically rising global demand head on – but they are having to do this unsafe in the knowledge that their supply chains are most certainly not equipped to take the strain. In fact, there are so many associated challenges facing UK aerospace and defence industries at present that it’s becoming harder for manufacturers to see the wood for the trees.

The challenge landscape is looking ever broader
With a need to reduce time to market by ~40% to keep up with demand, deep supply chains, and a decades-long after-market, aerospace organisations are most certainly facing a wide variety of challenges ranging from multi-level supply chain visibility to supply authentication, certification of people and components, and beyond.

China is doing things faster, cheaper and seemingly better than the rest of the world, forcing others to play catch up, in a hurry. But how can those organisations really do it quicker when they have to keep a constant eye on stringent certification standards to ensure that their products are safe and reliable, yet still cost-effective? And that’s just for starters. Probably the biggest issue is not being able to keep a finger on the pulse of their supply chains when so many OEMs have outsourced elements in the manufacturing process.

A more distributed manufacturing environment has created a supply chain that is far more complex than ever before in multiple dimensions – cross-company, cross-industry, cross-border, cross-culture, etc., leaving some suppliers with more questions than answers.

Making molehills out of mountains
However, as proven by the Wright brothers in 1903, with the right technology and a large degree of brainpower, these challenges can be easily overcome. Aircraft OEMs and tier one suppliers need to follow the trail blazed by the automotive industry and lay down a robust base to meet rising demand by developing closer and more collaborative relationships throughout the supply chain, encompassing all tiers of supplier.

This means sharing tools and techniques, and taking a more proactive, open and common approach to risks. Easier said than done as there remains a cultural barrier and as such a legacy in the aerospace industry where most manufacturers would rather keep their cards close to their chest than share low risk data that would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Okay it’s often easy to blame OEMs and tier ones for this, but the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) is perfectly placed to convene the industry to identify low risk opportunities for collaboration that will start to change the culture of the industry.

As a starter for ten, there are a number of innovators developing solutions that can provide supply chain visibility, allowing prediction of supply and demand that would help all tiers of the aerospace supply chain. One of these is Valuechain who provide smart manufacturing software that helps organisations to improve productivity, streamline collaboration and generate intelligence.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is making for a connected supply chain
IoT allows for the analysis, cross-referencing, and application of collected data faster than ever thought possible. In the aerospace industry it is being used to offer better operation and control, material management, staff and passenger information management, data analytics, and more importantly in this instance; inventory and operations planning, manufacturing and supply chain optimisation. IoT technologies are a logical enabling technology, assuming we change the attitude about collaboration. Using IoT devices, aerospace manufacturers can connect products and assets together to enable dynamic scheduling and flexible factory automation, where multiple products can be managed through the same factory, or across the entire supply chain.

New levels of connectivity such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), 5G and Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) offer the breadth of solutions from real-time, low latency data transactions between machines, to wide ranging asset tracking and condition monitoring solutions. Looking through this new lens, it’s not too difficult to see how easy it is to gather data for just about any application and there are many IoT analytics platforms that exist to drive value out of it.

Through our Just in Time project, Digital Catapult is working with Airbus and DFKI to deploy IoT solutions that provide workers with personalised workplace support using AI-based services. It supports on-the-spot problem solving through smart step-by-step instructions that react to the workers’ actions. Microlearning is provided just-in-time fitting to a situation. The system uses sensor data collected during the work processes through advanced future networks to detect potential problems and skill gaps.

Taking a leaf out of the book of Bitcoin
Aside from finance, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is starting to really gain traction in major industries such as music, energy and gaming, and now aerospace. Today it is already seen as the great enabler to address specific aerospace and defence industry challenges by supporting secure collaboration, and process coordination across OEMs, suppliers, and operators.

With the widespread application of parts pooling both within an airline’s own fleet and as part of wider pooling programmes, DLT would ease the back-office burdens of maintaining compliance with reporting requirements for lessors and owners in respect of the temporary and permanent replacement of parts. It may also simplify the management of a wider parts pool and provide users with a shared validated point of information on availability and timings.

Use of the words ‘would’ and ‘may’ above would probably lead many to believe that the use of DLT in the aerospace industry is a bit of a pipe dream at present, but it most certainly is not. There are already many use cases for using DLT in its digital transformation efforts and range from creating a hardened and traceable supply chain that supports secure collaboration and process coordination across OEMs, to optimising maintenance, certifying personnel, monitoring training logs, licensing of IP, and beyond.

According to Aviation Today, James Kornberg, director of innovation of Air France KLM said of Distributed Ledger Technology uptake, “In the aviation industry we still have a lot of our data that is not digitised, still a lot of analogue data, the first step, and that’s what we’re doing at the moment is going to a fully digital solution on all the supply chain and all the aviation data that we get.”

It’s a case of adapt or die
Transforming a diverse, highly competitive and bureaucratic industry like aerospace will not be easy, but we now have the digital transformation technologies to hand to begin to build this future. Our hope is that multiple industry players can pull together to produce collaborative small scale experimental deployments of idealised systems and use this vision to alleviate corporate inertia.

The ATI (last year) published an INSIGHT paper on Digital Transformation; exploring the potential for digital transformation in aerospace and examining the maturity of the UK aerospace sector’s digital capability. The paper has been informed by surveys of, and interviews with, industry leaders (both internal and external to the sector) conducted by the ATI. The paper also includes a digital framework representing the possibilities of digital technologies. The framework enables companies to assess where they are on the digital journey and their direction of travel.

In fact, underlining the relevance and impact of the ATI’s research and the growing necessity for end-to-end digital transformation of the aerospace industry, Digital Catapult has already begun discussions with major aerospace suppliers to help them explore digitisation of their internal processes through the use of IoT, Distributed Ledger Technologies, Virtual Reality, and Machine Learning. Results of that engagement will be forthcoming at a later stage.


Please note that a guest blog provides an external independent perspective, and does not necessarily represent the views of the ATI.

Source: 1Telegraph: How big is the UK Aerospace Industry