Government pledges £343m to propel UK’s electric aircraft revolution

The government has pledged that the UK’s world-leading aerospace sector will be propelled into a new era of cleaner, greener flight through industry and government investment.

To achieve the goal, £255m will be invested into 18 new research and technology projects, including the development of cleaner and greener hybrid aircraft. These will be supported by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

Crucially, an additional £68m will be pumped into the SME supply chain to support increased research and development opportunities with a further £20m set to drive improvements in long-term productivity across the sector.

The projects are intended to help the UK maintain its existing strengths in aerospace as well as position the UK as a world leader for some of the most technologically advanced aircraft that will transform the face of aviation including electric aircraft, hybrid-electric propulsion systems, and future materials for aircraft manufacturing.

A major beneficiary of the latest R&D funding is the revolutionary E-Fan X project. The project brings together Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens to develop a flying electrical demonstrator which will form the foundation for future electrical aircraft and help the aerospace sector to manufacture cleaner, quieter aircraft and grow the industry sustainably.

Rolls-Royce’s ACCEL project will also lead a UK programme to accelerate the electrification of flight which will contribute to the UK’s aim to cut emissions through its Clean Growth Strategy.

Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow, Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has a rich heritage in civil aviation as the home of the jet engine and the wings factory of the world.

“Technology is driving revolutionary changes in aviation that have not been seen since the 1970s and today’s investment is foundational to the future of commercial aviation and ensuring the UK remains at the cutting-edge of the sector. This revolution in civil aerospace will bring significant benefits to UK industry, passengers and the environment.”

The promised funding will also support a number of projects on the next generation UltraFan® aero engine, led by Rolls-Royce, which will contribute to their biggest shift in engine architecture since the 1970s. It will transform flight, setting new benchmarks in fuel efficiency, CO2 reductions and significant reductions in engine noise.

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg said: “The development of quicker, quieter and cleaner aircraft will transform the UK’s transport market and open up new and more sustainable ways for passengers to travel between our cities and regions and across the globe.”

Rob Watson, Director of Electrical, Rolls-Royce said: “We are delighted to be leading this research partnership. We are already investigating the potential of hybrid-electric propulsion, building on our existing expertise in applications such as hybrid trains and gas turbine-powered naval vessels, but this funding from the UK Government will enable us to explore the potential of all-electric flight.

“The increased use of electrical systems is an inescapable trend in our markets and championing electrification is a core part of our long-term strategy at Rolls-Royce.”

Mr Clark also announced the start of formal negotiations for an Industrial Strategy sector deal that will further increase business investment in the UK, with discussions expected to conclude before the end of the year.

The deal will:

  • explore investment opportunities around electrification and high-value design
  • raise productivity levels in the supply chain
  • and boost skill levels in the sector

Projects also supported by joint government and industry investment include:

Rolls-Royce

  • four projects on engine technologies for UltraFan involving multiple partners including universities and smaller companies. A new generation of aircraft engine that aims to transform flight, setting new benchmarks in efficiency, environmental performance and precision engineering. ACCEL is intended to accelerate the adoption of electrical technology in aviation through the design build and flight test of a high performance electric powertrain.

Bombardier

  • Three projects – Competitive Composite Manufacturing Process (CoCoMaP), FANTASTIC (Nacelle) and OptiComp (Wing project) – worth £32m. The projects explore more efficient manufacturing processes, new technology for engine covers (nacelles) and the application of composite material to large aerospace structures, such as wings and fuselage.

GKN

  • The £9.7m CO-MET (COmposite and METallic) project will help GKN develop new aerostructure components for aircraft upgrade opportunities and new programmes.

Airbus

  • The £16m Future Landing Gear project. This project aims to reduce cash operating costs by 2% through increased efficiency and reduced turn-around times.

National Composite Centre Operation Ltd

  • Three projects worth a combined £44m. The National Composite Centre, part of High Value Manufacturing Catapult, will develop new, more efficient ways of producing large composite aerostructures. The research will explore the use of new composite materials as well as the manufacturing process.




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