10 Years of the ATI: Alan Newby

In the first of our series of guest blogs to celebrate 10 years of the ATI, Director of R&T at Rolls-Royce and ATI Board member Alan Newby discusses his reflections on a decade of investment in UK aerospace.

alan-newbyQ: As a member of the ATI Board, what are your reflections on the last ten years of ATI operations and the impact of the ATI Programme?

The ATI is of course a fundamental part of keeping the UK at the forefront of technology and it has remained a strong and unifying force through a decade that has seen significant economic and social challenges that included a global pandemic that particularly impacted our industry.

I’m particularly aware of the ATI’s role at my company, Rolls-Royce, where its support has been critical to the development of our UltraFan demonstrator engine, which is 10% more efficient than the Trent XWB, the world’s most efficient engine in service today. Its creation and run to full power at our recently-built Testbed 80 was a once-in-a-generation undertaking and was only possible through teamwork with funding agencies like the ATI, and the wider UK aerospace ecosystem. We are also taking technologies from this programme and incorporating them into our in-production engines.

Similarly, the same partnership approach has enabled us to prove our current in-production engines are compatible with 100% SAF and has also allowed us to make huge strides in testing hydrogen as a fuel for the future.


Q: The aerospace industry is going through the most transformative period of rapid change it has ever seen. In your view, over the last decade, what do you consider the most transformational forces to have been?

In terms of forces that have driven the aerospace industry, I think the desire for greater sustainability has been one of the most impactful. We have a long history of addressing the topic in our drive to make gas turbines ever more efficient. That journey continues, and there is now a renewed focus on a step change in propulsion efficiency as well as using new fuels.

This issue is growing in importance as our industry continues to evolve at pace, with continued growth in demand in regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

In terms of forces that are transforming how we become an even better industry, we’ve seen the continual improvement in AI, computing and data capture which allows us to test engines with an ever-increasing degree of certainty.  For example, our physical impact tests of UltraFan carbon titanium fan blades fully replicated the computer simulation, right down to individual carbon fibre threads. That data also allows us to better understand and support our engines in service.

Q: As a major industry player working with a strong supply chain, what stands out most about the UK’s strengths? Do you think these have increased over the last decade?

The last decade has seen the global benchmark in the quality and value of R&T increase and the UK is meeting that challenge. It has some great strengths to drawn on: a world class ecosystem that includes innovative and agile SMEs, a strong tradition in academic research, and some world-class industry leading companies.

That said, we still can improve, and there is still work to be done to strengthen our supply chain. This is particularly significant, not just for R&T but also for the industry’s wider production and service capabilities as it continues to recover and reshape in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our own ATI-related research involves more than 120 supply chain partners, and that is why programmes such as Sharing in Growth and Supply Chain Solutions are important to us to foster innovation and collaboration.

Q: How important is continued investment in sustainability-enabling technologies, for organisations of all sizes?

R&D and R&T are going to be vital in the next decade if we are going to meet the sustainability challenge , and that will continue to mean investment, teamwork and effective use of resources. We will need to address the key areas of continuing to make aircraft ever more efficient, and for UltraFan continues to be a key element of that in terms of future propulsion but also technologies that can transfer to make our current engines even more efficient for today’s market. We will need to continue to advocate for SAF, and we will need to continue to develop our understanding of emerging fuels like hydrogen.


Last week, Alan Newby joined Business Minister Alan Mak in addressing a reception in the House of Lords to mark the 10th anniversary of the ATI transforming aerospace through technology and innovation. Click here to discover more.

The Rolls-Royce UltraFan project was awarded ATI Project of the Year in our first Aerospace Technology & Innovation Awards last year. Discover more about the project in the video below:

Cover image: © Rolls-Royce