The UK has unveiled a more than £300 million ($368 million) government-industry investment to develop “cleaner, greener” forms of air transport, including electric and autonomous aircraft and sustainable alternative fuels.
The government will provide £125 million in the Future of Flight Challenge, supported by an industry co-investment of £175 million, to fund development of technologies including cargo drones, urban air taxis and larger electric passenger aircraft.
An additional £5 million has been awarded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to five new transport research networks led by the Universities of Birmingham, Durham and Leeds, Cardiff University and University College London. The funds will support work to develop cleaner fuels and other technologies to reduce emissions.
The first competition under the challenge, to create “compelling concept studies,” will open Sept. 30. Innovate UK plans to brief potential bidders by video conference on Sept. 5.
A presentation by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute, from a January workshop on the challenge, said its goal is to “[demonstrate] aviation systems incorporating low environmental impact, electrified, increasingly autonomous air vehicles and airspace management by 2025.”
The document describes four main areas of work under the challenge: new models of airspace management and “anticipatory regulation,” novel air vehicle demonstrators, ground infrastructure demonstrators for cities and “sub-regional airports,” and new operating models for users and commercial operators of air services.
Potential milestones outlined in the January presentation include: unmanned traffic management drone trials in 2021, deployment of initial services on a trial basis in 2022, and autonomous drones operating beyond visual-line-of-sight in UK airspace by 2023. Operation of drones in cities is also planned by 2023.
While it is not clear whether the timescales still hold, the document outlines plans to fly demonstrators of two electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing concepts in 2021, and conduct autonomous flights in 2023. The presentation also calls for demonstrators of two sub-regional, conventional-takeoff electric/hybrid-electric passenger aircraft: a modified existing aircraft in 2021 and an optimized aircraft in 2023.