ARTICLE

Accelerating the Future of Air Mobility

Over the past six months, Connected Places Catapult, in partnership with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge, embarked on a journey to select and fund 11 SMEs to trial and test their solutions in areas of data driven aviation, smart airports and advanced air mobility. 

SMEs working on new aviation technologies get support to scale.

Alongside access to funding for trials and testbeds for demonstrations, the SMEs received mentorship and support from a consortium of industry partners, academic institutions, and regulatory bodies. These included: UK Civil Aviation Authority, British Standards Institute, AGS Airports, Heathrow Airport, GKN Aerospace, Supernal, Cranfield University, Coventry University, with access to the facilities at Snowdonia Aerospace. 

The programme demonstrated not only the art of the possible for new aviation technologies but how, by collaborating across the industry, we can test, validate, and accelerate these technologies to market successfully. The SMEs on the programme represented an array of technologies, from simulations of how flying taxis could integrate into the skies of London; to demonstrating new systems and technologies that power the future of flight; to supporting airports to achieve net zero through autonomy, airside asset monitoring and optimising energy usage.  

Connected Places Catapult delivered the programme in partnership with Plus X, where together they supported the SMEs through a bespoke programme tailored to their requirements. This included support on areas such as investment readiness, business modelling and product development, alongside introductions to aviation stakeholders and investors through networking events.  

The programme was co-designed with the SMEs to scale their businesses and adapt their propositions to the requirements of the partners and the wider industry. The funded trials together with mentorship provided, supported the cohort in raising over £5.5 million in investment, securing over £6 million in grant funding, securing new commercial clients, alongside creating over 65 new jobs whilst on the programme. 

The programme culminated with a Demo Day exhibition and VIP Dinner at Aerospace Bristol, where the SMEs showcased their achievements from their trials to a rich audience of industry, government, investor and policy leaders. Followed by an evening of fine dining and networking underneath the imposing Concorde. 

To learn more about the programme and the SMEs that were selected for cohort 1, make sure to watch the programme showreel video. 

Connected Places Catapult would like to thank all the partners and contributors involved. The team is excited to be scoping out the second programme to support more SMEs in this space, due to launch in Autumn 2022. 

If you are interested in being involved in the next programme, either as a partner or SME, please reach out to Alice Johnson, Accelerator Team Lead.

Find out more about our work in Aviation here.

Hear from the consortium here:

“We are committed to a more sustainable future for aviation. We believe it will take a range of technologies and intensive collaboration across the whole industry to achieve our net zero goal. Although the Future of Air Mobility Accelerator programme is in its early stages, it is a great example of the partnership approach that is required. We’re delighted to work with SME’s and partners to explore the future of flight.”  
Furqan, Technology Manager Future Flight, GKN Aerospace
We were thrilled to be working with these SMEs and our industry partners to trial new, sustainable and innovative technologies that would help strengthen the UK’s world-class aviation sector, especially as it recovers from the impacts of the pandemic. We look forward to seeing these concepts brought to life and hope to be able to implement some of this technology on our own airfield in the future.” 
Kathryn Leahy, Director of Operations, Heathrow Airport
“We were delighted to be involved in the Future of Air Mobility Accelerator programme. We strongly believe that Airports have a key role to play in supporting the development of safe, sustainable and efficient frameworks enabling the delivery of the future aviation market. 

 “Being involved allowed us to provide insight and advice to SMEs which is important as they develop disruptive technologies for the aviation industry.” 

Fiona Smith, Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy, AGS Airports
We’re delighted to be supporting the Future of Air Mobility Accelerator and are proud to be working with some of the exciting new businesses being supported by the programme. This is a fast-moving area, with developments evolving on a week-by-week basis – data and digital aviation technologies are transforming the air transport sector and SMEs are playing a key role in that future.” 
Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace, Cranfield University
“Coventry University, through the National Transport Design Centre, is delighted to support the Connected Places Catapult’s ‘Future of Air Mobility’ accelerator. The university has a long history of supporting SMEs and this strategically important initiative ideally complements the centre’s research themes in Urban Air Mobility and electric Vertical Take off and Landing vehicles. We are therefore looking forward to helping SMEs develop disruptive technologies in the aviation industry.”
Kevin Vincent, Director at Centre for Connected and Autonomous Research, Coventry University
Through Coventry University’s contribution to the Future Flight Challengefunded AirOne project, here at the National Transport Design Centre our research focused on understanding the customer journey and making the Air One facility accessible to all, easy to navigate and a pleasure to use. We did this using immersive Virtual Reality to allow people to experience and contribute to the design of this innovative transport system of the future. 
Dr Stewart Birrel, Professor of Human Factors for Future Transport, Coventry University
“The Connected Places Catapult Future Air Mobility Accelerator programme has been a really useful programme for the UK Civil Aviation Authority Innovation Hub to be involved with. It has provided us with a range of different use cases to explore regulatory challenges and has helped to further our understanding of the priority areas for innovations in their earlier stages”. 
Rory Hedman, Innovation Services Principal, UK Civil Aviation Authority
“Our engagement as a partner on the Future of Air Mobility accelerator has shown that standards will play an enabling role in the development of the air mobility market, technologies, and business, helping to bring products and services to market safely and successfully. BSI is looking ahead to future work in this sector working across the industry and with key stakeholders in developing standards and solutions in support of innovation and sustainability across the aviation sector.
Nick Fleming, Associate Director, Transport and Mobility Standards, British Standards Institution
This is an incredibly exciting time for innovation in air mobility. New technologies and approaches are emerging and rapidly transforming the way we move people and goods around the world and within our cities. For Plus X, it has been an absolute pleasure working alongside such a committed group of partners over the past 6 months. Everyone has pulled together to create opportunities for the exciting SMEs taking part to validate their technology and develop their commercial success. It is clear that many of the innovators on this programme will lead the air mobility revolution ahead of us and we can wait to see what they go on to achieve.”
Toby Kress, Programme Director, Plus X
”The Future Flight challenge is all about advancing aviation technologies and encouraging their spread into society. Around 80% of our funding has been given to SMEs and we recognise how vital they are to the growth of the UK aviation industry. I have no doubt that the innovative ideas produced by these 11 SMEs, addressing issues across data driven aviation, smart airports and advanced air mobility will help shape a new era of flight in the UK.” 
Simon Masters, Deputy Challenge Director of the Future Flight Challenge, UK Research and Innovation
“As the premier commercial test centre for new and novel aerospace in the UK, the Snowdonia Aerospace Centre was delighted to assist the Connected Places Catapult in facilitating the demonstrations of future air mobility and we look forward to supporting further exciting flight test developments.”
Lee Paul, Chief Executive Officer, Snowdonia Aerospace LLP
“We are so delighted with the success of our first Future of Air Mobility Accelerator, how the SMEs and partners collaborated, and the excellent response we have had to the entire process from aviation stakeholders. Innovation and collaboration are the key to the regeneration and growth of the aviation industry, and we are delighted to play in a leading role in this. We are looking forward to progressing this ambition further in our second Future of Air Mobility Accelerator.” 
Andrew Chadwick, Aviation Technology Innovation Lead, Connected Places Catapult