Keeping the UK competitive in the global aerospace market

Aerospace is characterised by intense global competition with governments across the world increasingly providing significant financial subsidies to attract both existing manufacturers and developing their own indigenous capabilities. To date, strong innovation in advanced manufacturing processes and underpinning capability in key product areas have helped to sustain UK competitiveness in the global aerospace market. But our preeminent position as world leader is by no means guaranteed; international competitors are gaining ground at an accelerating pace, as a result of their heavy investment in research and technology and infrastructure and pose a real threat to the competitiveness of the UK aerospace industry.

As we transition to a more sustainable future for aerospace, radically new aircraft and propulsion methods will be required, calling for many new industrial capabilities which will lay the foundations for the future of the industry. In addition to demonstrating UK leadership in tackling aviation emissions, the economic prize is huge, providing the UK an opportunity to consolidate an undisputed position as a leader and shaper of aerospace.

Government investment in aerospace is making a real difference

With industry matching funding from government, the ATI funding model is unique and our 350+ projects to date are facilitating breakthroughs in key areas of aerospace technology such as propulsion, wings, complex systems, and sustainable aviation.
As we transition to net zero emissions aviation, the sector has a once in a generation opportunity to lead the competitive global market. Investments into world leading projects such as ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight), H2Gear (Hybrid Hydrogen & Electric Architecture), and the HyFlyer hydrogen fuel cell projects have been major steps towards ensuring the UK remains competitive in the race to create a greener aviation sector, driving forward innovation and growth and capturing valuable market share.

Responding to both the global situation and its own circumstances, the UK is pursuing a series of ambitious policies such as spreading prosperity to all regions and establishing itself as a science superpower. Aerospace has a strong contribution to make to these policies.

The government’s ambition is welcome. At yesterday’s Global Investment Summit 2021 hosted in London, the Prime Minister highlighted the huge benefits that can be delivered through a coming together of innovation, private investment and a strong Government lead.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy, also published yesterday, highlights the work of the ATI in supporting greener aircraft technology. And the UK Net Zero Research and Innovation Framework, released alongside the Net Zero Strategy, recognised that “research and innovation is particularly crucial in [aviation and maritime] and a variety of potential solutions need to be developed and tested over the coming decade, to enable the best options to be scaled up.”

The ATI sits on the Jet Zero Council, and we very much value our role as technology advisers to government. But to realise the government’s Jet Zero ambitions and lead the world in the development of sustainable air transport, more must be done.

Positioning UK aerospace needs today’s aspirations to go even further in terms of support and ambition

Put simply, incremental technological progress will not achieve the voluntary goals set out by the aviation or aerospace industries, or statutory requirements being developed. Instead, a major uplift in aerospace R&D is required, embracing a broad sustainability agenda and a wide portfolio of technologies must be investigated.

The transformation will require huge new investments in technology and infrastructure. Investment pressures are already becoming apparent as industry begins to tackle the challenges. Alongside industry developments, new institutional initiatives will be required to drive progress in underpinning technologies, as well as initiatives to bring industry together and benefit from collaboration, in the UK and overseas.

High level ambitions have been set by our competitors including France and Germany with funding to match. France has announced the commitment of a sustainable aircraft programme flying by 2035 with €1.5bn over the next 3 years allocated for developing technologies to achieve it.

Once technology development has started in another country it is more likely to continue there with the growth of local expertise. This can be key for lower level TRL-2 technologies as with maturity through research projects, both capability and commercialisation increase within that nation.

The ATI makes the UK a very attractive country to undertake research and manufacturing by the very nature of the programme’s long-term nature, creating new jobs and anchoring and onshoring new technologies and opportunities.

But with demand for ATI funding at unprecedented level and the programme due to cease in 2026, a step change in the scale of operations is required in order to position the UK as a global centre of excellence for sustainable flight and new mobility markets.

Continued government investment through the ATI, match funded by industry, will ensure that the UK can lead the transformation to sustainable air transport and maintain its leadership well into the future.