John Warehand • 03.08.23 • 6 min read

Simon Weeks Q&A: We say thank you and farewell to ATI’s CTO of nine years

In a Q&A ahead of his retirement after nine years as the ATI’s Chief Technology Officer, Prof. Simon Weeks spoke to Head of Communications John Warehand about the moments he’ll remember from his enduring tenure.

Reflecting on your time at the ATI, what has changed in the sector since the organisation’s inception?

Nine years ago, when the ATI was established, everyone was talking about the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 replacements that would be entering the market in the mid-2020s. There was a huge focus on the next mid-market aircraft.

Although some of the expectations for these next-generation aircraft were beginning to reduce before Covid-19, the global pandemic really blew apart any predictions on that front. There’s no doubt that Covid-19 was a major event in the second half of my time at the ATI, and we are still seeing the impact today.

Nine years ago there was a lot of excitement around battery-powered aircraft. Since then, the role of batteries has been refined and our view of the potential market is very different. Now of course it is the use of hydrogen as a fuel source that is exciting everyone, and we’ve seen that build over the last three years or so.

Overall though the biggest change has been the focus on sustainability. It has always been a key focus for the ATI’s national technology strategy, but it has come more to the fore and is certainly more pressing now.


What has it been like to be with the organisation since the start in a role so key to defining the UK aerospace technology strategy?

I joined the ATI because I wanted to make a difference to UK aerospace. With my team at the ATI, I have no doubt that we have changed the face of UK aerospace for the better.

There are visible signs around the country. There are buildings and manufacturing facilities that are only there because of funding through the ATI Programme. We have put world-leading technology into open-access Catapults around the UK. We have funded new infrastructure in UK universities – some have been running for a few years and some, like the new centre at the Whittle Lab at the University of Cambridge, will be getting online soon.

We’ve made possible hundreds of research projects. With the Rolls-Royce UltraFan project we have helped create the world’s largest aerospace engine, supported by a one-of-a-kind test bed in Derby.

There is all the work on future wings with Airbus in Filton and Broughton, which is the envy of the world. There is GKN Aerospace’s Global Technology Centre. And most recently the announcement of the AMRC’s Compass (Composites at Speed and Scale) facility in Sheffield, and its first project with Boeing, representing an £80m investment.

These, and many others in the ATI portfolio, are advanced transformatory programmes, and I don’t think they would have been possible without the ATI Programme.


There have been several technology strategies in your time at the ATI, how have these evolved and what would you say has been a recurring theme?

One recurring theme has certainly been the competitiveness of UK industry, and using advanced research programmes and infrastructure to deliver economic value to the UK.

I would say they have evolved to centre more on the sustainability of next-generation aircraft. And we have worked hard to give more focus to the strategies – providing better clarify and simplicity to support the UK sector in preparing for the future.


What are you most proud of from your time as CTO at the ATI? Has anything surprised you?

I am most proud about the overall impact that the ATI has had on UK aerospace. Our industry would look very different without the ATI Programme.

As for being surprised, I would say it’s what can be achieved by what is still a relatively small organisation. The ATI occupies a special place in the UK aerospace sector – utilising our expertise and our network to convene stakeholders and guide the research that will keep the UK at the forefront of the global market.


What impact have you witnessed the ATI having in the UK?

As I said earlier, it’s the stories of things happening in the UK that wouldn’t have otherwise – investing in projects and facilities around the country.

It’s also initiatives like FlyZero. There are lots of opinions about how to develop zero-carbon emission aircraft, but thanks to FlyZero the ATI has done the comprehensive data gathering and analysis. It informs and backs up our strategy, and gives important credibility to the ATI.

I would also point to the modelling capabilities developed by the ATI. These are very impactful, and were particularly important in defining our Destination Zero strategy.


Thinking about the people you’ve worked with across the industry over the past nine years, what are your observations and what reasons are there to be optimistic about the UK aerospace sector?

I am optimistic, particularly when I see the new generation of engineers and scientists that are coming through. We are supporting people early in their career at the ATI, and we also provided plenty of opportunities through FlyZero. They are all champions of zero-carbon emission flight! Their energy and enthusiasm show that the UK has an exciting future – one in which we can continue to innovate.


What does the future hold for you?

I will continue to engage with industry and academia. I am joining the Innovate UK Council, and will be on the Department for Transport’s College of Experts. I am also joining the Offshore Wind Growth Partnership as a non-executive director – in many ways it is the equivalent of the ATI for offshore wind energy. I’m very pleased to continue my involvement with science & technology and helping to develop sustainable technologies.


Finally, looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the UK aerospace industry?

I think the UK can play a huge role in the future of global aerospace. We have a long and challenging road ahead, but we have made a start. We’ve got to be part of the future; we must keep investing. If this happens, the UK will continue to play an important part, and it will secure a great future for our sector.


ATI CEO Gary Elliott said: “I would like to add my personal thanks to Simon for his many years as the ATI’s CTO, and I know these will be echoed by the Board, all his colleagues and the many people with whom he has worked across UK Government, industry, academia, and research organisations.

“Simon was instrumental in establishing the ATI, and has led the very important work to define and set the UK aerospace technology strategy. He leaves the ATI, and UK aerospace technology, in a much better place than when he took on the role. He will be pursuing his new business interests with all our very best wishes”.