Gary Elliott • 18.01.24 • 4 min read

Rising to the challenge: the greatest need is to increase the pace

Last week, ATI’s CEO Gary Elliott and CTO Jacqueline Castle visited Davos ahead of the World Economic Forum to discuss the most urgent challenges facing the aerospace sector in the transformation to Net Zero. Strategic investments, such as those delivered through the ATI Programme, are helping to make the UK aerospace sector one of the most vibrant ecosystems in the global industry while advancing and delivering critical developments in sustainable technologies. However, the challenge now is to increase the pace of innovation, development and delivery. 

Earlier this week I was pleased to sit down, alongside Jacqueline Castle, the ATI’s Chief Technology Officer, with journalist Olivia Kinghorst to discuss the sustainability of aerospace.

The interview, hosted by Reuters, was well-timed for a couple of reasons. The first is that it took place against the backdrop of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, taking place this week. The agenda for the annual meeting is looking at a wide range of topics affecting societies globally, but chief among those is the urgent need to address climate change.

But I was also pleased to have this discussion at the start of the ATI’s 10th anniversary year. 2024 is a major milestone for the Institute, and I am proud that we can look back at the last ten years and point to the significant successes of ATI-funded projects, particularly in ensuring that the next generation of aircraft will have less impact on the environment.

Globally we can see an aerospace sector that is bouncing back and expanding rapidly following the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. The market for commercial aerospace deliveries is estimated to grow from £102 billion in 2018 to £202 billion by 2050. Simultaneously the sector is undergoing its greatest transformation since the jet age as it seeks to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions.

This is no small challenge. Aircraft and their systems are complex and must meet exceptionally high safety standards, meaning technologies take a long time to de-risk and deploy. Breakthroughs in hydrogen, batteries and fuel cell technologies, alongside the nearer-term deployment of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), are needed to cut emissions. Countries that lead the development and deployment of these technologies can expect a growing share of the global aerospace market.

The UK is in a strong position to capitalise on this. It is home to the third largest aerospace manufacturing sector in the OECD. The roots of the UK’s success include an enduring presence of global companies like Airbus and Rolls-Royce, an excellent research base and skills pipeline, an effective regulatory environment and strong industry-government partnership.

Since the ATI began its operations in 2014, almost ten years to the day, we have been a living example of a green industrial policy in the UK. The ATI Programme has facilitated over £3.5 billion of R&T investment to date, reflecting a combination of UK Government and industry funding, and has unlocked investment from over 400 organisations across the UK. Last year the UK Government confirmed an additional £975 million in funding for the ATI Programme to 2030. This will enable the programme to go even further in helping make the UK the world’s most vibrant ecosystem for the development and deployment of aerospace technology.

As I said in the interview, the greatest need for the global aerospace sector now is to increase the pace; increase the pace of investing and increase the pace of technology development. Take more risks – fail fast and learn fast. As a sector we have still have enormous challenges ahead and the timescales are very tight, so we cannot afford to take this slowly.

The UK aerospace sector has a rich history of innovation and is rising to the challenge of reaching Net Zero flight. It shows how long-term strategy, investment, and harnessing decarbonisation for growth can put the UK at the forefront in a globally competitive industry – and ensure that the world can continue to be connected without contributing to climate change.