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Aerospace engineer in front of the turbine of a commercial jet plane

John Laughlin, Aerospace Programme Lead at Innovate UK answers AG’s questions regarding investment in the aerospace industry and how Innovate UK play an integral role in this

UK businesses are well placed to take advantage of growing global demand for faster, quieter and greener aircraft. As the biggest aerospace industry in Europe and the second largest in the world, the sector makes a major contribution to economic growth and employment in the UK.

In 2013, it employed 239,000 people, many of them highly skilled engineers and technicians. They and thousands of other workers in the supply chain helped to generate nearly £28bn in turnover, 90% of which is in the export business. New global opportunities in a total civil aerospace market of $5 trillion include a need for 27,000 aircraft of 100-plus seats, 24,000 business jets 40,000 helicopters by 2033.

Innovate UK helps the UK aerospace industry in 3 ways; by connecting people and joining up the innovation landscape we help businesses draw upon expertise and experience in our world-class science base and industrial supply chain, in order to come together to exploit opportunities for the global competitive advantage and economic benefit of the UK.

Through our Highly Innovative Technology Enablers in Aerospace (HITEA) funding programme, we aim to support breakthrough advances in technology that address solutions to key aerospace industry challenges. By investing in the next generation of aerospace technology solutions businesses in the UK will be able to support new aerospace platforms and be able to enhance the competitiveness of existing products or services.

By being the delivery partner for the £3.9bn Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) aerospace programme we work closely with the ATI, government and industry to ensure maximum utilisation of the programme budget, managing the project portfolio and delivering the highest quality projects to maximise the return for the UK economy.

How will Innovate UK’s recent £10m investment in the sector help to ensure the UK maintains its position as world leaders in aerospace technology?

The recent investment of £10m in aerospace technologies was made through the HITEA programme with the prime purpose of supporting technologies that can help position and grow the UK economy. The investment was split into 2 funding streams. The first was to stimulate completely new ideas and concepts – game-changing technologies – that have the potential to fundamentally disrupt existing products and services creating unique technology propositions that can be embedded in the UK supply chain. The second was looking at technology solutions to key aerospace challenges such as those looking to develop new, novel and flexible manufacturing techniques, enhanced materials for the harsh environment of aerospace, reducing the cost of ownership, integrating component life diagnostics into aircraft, helping manufacturers to continue the move toward intelligent electronic systems replacing part hydraulic systems also looking to stimulate innovation in the maintenance and repair marketplace. Focusing on agile, highly innovative companies – often SMEs that can adapt quickly and create high-quality solutions, allows these innovations to be adopted quickly within the supply chain and be fed up to the larger industry players. Supporting supply chain innovation in this way helps to anchor the technologies to the UK, building the supply chain and often establishing a pipeline of innovation.

Our investment was designed for UK businesses to accelerate the exploitation of innovations, many of which originate from knowledge generated by the UK’s world-class science base. By supporting these early-stage ideas (often from aligned scientific disciplines, such as manufacturing, advanced materials, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics) and stimulating channels for appropriate knowledge flow between the science base and businesses in a manner that balances relevant technology push with market pull and industrial need through to commercialisation.

What role does Innovate UK play in the aerospace innovation landscape?

Innovate the UK is a key stakeholder on the innovation landscape. We aim to reduce the lead time for the commercialisation of highly disruptive technologies by joining up the often complex innovation landscape to give companies the right help at the right time. Our unique position in terms of access to small and medium enterprises, the research base and our multi-disciplinary activities across many UK sectors, coupled with the Catapult centres and Knowledge Transfer Network enables a far-reaching innovation support structure.

We have developed a programme called HITEA (Highly Innovative Technology Enablers in Aerospace). The programme will accelerate the commercialisation of highly innovative technologies and was developed with key stakeholders to ensure an appropriate focus on the research priorities needed to support future development within the civil aerospace sector. These include the Aerospace Growth Partnership, the ATI and its Technology Advisory Group, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and a cross-section of key industry stakeholders from large primes through to highly innovative SME’s.

The programme has been designed to complement (and sit between) both support provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the larger scale support provided by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), by encouraging companies to refine their business plans, to give particular thought to their routes to market and their wider exploitation plans and to collaborate with other companies where partnership would be of benefit.

The programme takes on high-risk projects that have a very high potential return on investment, de-risking the technology and getting it ready for either early commercial application or further investment, via the ATI and European investment programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Clean Skies. At Innovate UK we are also in a unique position as we can base our investments not just on what is known in the aerospace sector but on our detailed knowledge of developments in other industry sectors. With a project portfolio of over 5000 funded projects, we can map trends across all industries and connect companies from these sectors to find new ways of solving challenges. For example, our investments in manufacturing, advanced materials, resource efficiency, digital, photonics electronics and sensors – along with recent advancements in the automotive sector have all influenced the outcomes of the investment. We also have an emerging technologies programme and quantum technologies and graphene are starting to find potential applications in the aerospace sector.

This works both ways, of course, with aerospace derived technologies being applied to other areas.

Our other role is as a delivery partner to Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) whose programme has a combined investment worth £3.9bn. As a delivery partner, we manage the portfolio of projects, engaging from the technical assessment stage where we ensure only the highest quality projects are funded, through managing the health of the portfolio and through to commercial exploitation of the technology. We work to manage the performance of the portfolio, ensuring successful delivery of the projects and ensuring that public money is used efficiently and effectively to sponsor economic growth.

How does innovate UK work with organisations such as the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to help the UK maintain its position in this sector and develop key new technologies to help it grow further?

In addition to acting as the delivery partner for the ATI programme, we feed the ATI with the latest knowledge and advancements from other sectors, potential projects, and potential technologies and help connect the landscape with regards other companies and organisations. We focus much of our support for technology development through the HITEA programme, but we also utilise our Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) in order to connect companies to share knowledge and collaborate on projects, our Horizon 2020 EU National Contact Points our Enterprise Europe network and development of skills through our Knowledge Transfer Programme and our dedicated programmes to support SMEs in the sector.


John Laughlin

Programme Lead – Aerospace

Innovate UK


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