GKN Aerospace is helping to develop the next generation of sustainable technology through three collaborative programmes as part of the Future Flight Challenge.

GKN will take a leading role in the carbon emissions reduction programmes, delivering them from its new £32m Global Technology Centre in Bristol.

The Future Flight Challenge is a four year, £125m programme launched under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Future Flight Challenge from UK Research and Innovation to develop more sustainable aviation solutions. The current phase is focused on the development of integrated aviation systems which enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles.

With 15 collaborators and an initial investment of £4.5M, the programmes focus on electrification, unmanned commercial flight and more sustainable regional aerospace solutions to drive connectivity. The programmes aims to maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of technology development targeting the decarbonisation of the industry.

  • The programmes are:
  • Skybus: Skybus explores a novel transport network, based on large electric Vertical Take-Off & Landing (eVTOL) vehicles capable of carrying between 30-50 passengers each, taking the “Park and Ride” concept into the air for mass transit over extremely congested routes thus eliminating the 2-Dimensional constraints of current surface transport modes including cars, trains and buses. This will not only offer direct benefits in reduced travel time at affordable fares but also reduce the congestion on current ground transport vehicles, reducing overall travel time for all passengers travelling on these routes regardless of their chosen mode of transport. Skybus is led by GKN Aerospace with the following partners: Swanson Aviation Consultancy, Pascall+Watson and Connected Places Catapult.
  • Safe Flight: with unmanned and autonomous systems evolving at pace, uncertainty remains around how to integrate autonomous systems safely into shared airspace. This proposal addresses technological challenges in terms of the integration of a range of cutting-edge technologies in real-world use case demonstrations and looks at the underpinning business need of a clear route to certifiable aircraft systems and approved operations. Safe Flight is led by GKN Aerospace with the following partners: University of Bath, 3UG Autonomous Systems and Callen-Lenz.
  • NAPKIN: NAPKIN will model and pilot a UK-wide domestic sustainable aviation network promoting zero carbon emissions, connectivity where surface infrastructure is lacking as well as UK business growth and competitiveness. NAPKIN is led by Heathrow Airport, in collaboration with GKN Aerospace, Rolls Royce, Highlands & Islands Airports, Deloitte, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, London City Airport, University of Southampton, University College London and Cranfield University.

Minister for Business, Paul Scully, said: “We’re investing in ambitious projects to make flying more sustainable and ensure passengers have greater choice about how they travel. Pioneering research supported by government funding will help the UK build back greener from the pandemic, remain at the forefront of aerospace research and development, and provide global leadership in the next aviation revolution. I look forward to seeing such proposals take flight.”

Max Brown, Vice President Technology at GKN Aerospace, said: “We are committed to a more sustainable future for aviation and our technologies will keep us at the forefront of this challenge. No one company can achieve this alone and these Future Flight Challenge programmes highlight the importance of collaboration in achieving this aim. It is a great example of public-private collaboration as well as the importance of Government in supporting the aerospace industry, through it’s industrial strategy. We look forward to working together to deliver the next generation of sustainable air travel.”


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