Airspace of the Future Logo

The Airspace of the Future Consortium

Nine UK organisations have today announced The Airspace of the Future (AoF) Consortium. It comprises of Thales, Cranfield University, Cranfield Airport Operations, Inmarsat, Altitude Angel, Ocado Group, Blue Bear, Satellite Applications Catapult, and Connected Places Catapult.

The group will work to integrate drone services within the wider UK transport ecosystem. It was formed in response to UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge (FFC).

The FFC supports the development of new technologies in the UK. Including freight-carrying drones, urban air vehicles, and hybrid-electric regional aircraft. It is funded by £125 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which is expected to be matched by up to £175 million from industry.

Advances in electric and autonomous flight technology are expected to increase mobility and reduce road congestion, improve connectivity, scale up UK manufacturing opportunities, and help reduce the environmental impact of aviation across the globe.

Professor Antonios Tsourdos, head of the Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems Centre at Cranfield University, said:

“We’re delighted to be part of the Airspace of the Future Consortium, working with our partners to lead the integration of drone and unmanned vehicle services within the wider UK transport ecosystem.

“Our responses to the Future Flight Challenge are harnessing the potential of electric and autonomous flight technology to transform air transport services in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

“Cranfield’s global research airport provides a unique environment to develop and test the airspace management technologies, supporting ground infrastructure and aircraft of the future.”

Realising the potential of drones

The AoF project will pool expertise and experience across the UK to ensure routine, operational drone services can be carried out safely.

It will work to integrate quieter, more efficient, and less polluting aircraft within the rest of the transport infrastructure, ensuring aircraft can fly to and from a cost-effective network of small operating bases.

The group will also develop the supporting ground infrastructure, regulation and control systems required to use these new aircraft practically and safely, whilst the value of a mixed-use airspace will be demonstrated through innovative simulation and real-world applications.

Mark Westwood, chief technology officer at Connected Places Catapult, said:

“The Future Flight Challenge provides a fantastic opportunity to promote UK industry’s position as a world leader in aviation technology. Connected Places Catapult are excited to be working with the Airspace of the Future consortium, comprising leading UK academic and industry partners.

“Together we will tackle the challenges within the unmanned aviation ecosystem and develop a blueprint for future airspace and the supporting digital and physical infrastructure required to safely integrated drone and electric aircraft operations, boosting UK industrial capability within this valuable market sector.”