Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Future flight challenge

Building the aviation ecosystem needed to speed up the introduction of electric sub-regional aircraft, advanced air mobility vehicles and drones into the UK.

It works with industry, academia, government and regulators to transform how we connect people, deliver goods and provide services.

£125 million
Single challenge running from 2019 to 2024, with two funding phases.
Partners involved:
Innovate UK (lead) and Economic and Social Research Council

The scope and what we're doing

This £300 million challenge is delivering the third revolution in aviation by:

  • funding innovative projects across the UK
  • positioning the UK as a global leader in advanced aviation solutions
  • setting up working groups to discuss, tackle and solve the main industry issues.

The challenge is working towards demonstrating:

  • the safe integration and operation of drones
  • advanced air mobility and regional aircraft
  • advancements in electrification and autonomy.

Taking place over three phases, this £125 million investment is backed by £175 million from industry.

A clear plan

The challenge has a clear plan and strategy to advance future flight in the UK. And encourage its spread into society.

It has a vision for a future aviation system. Using new classes of electric, hydrogen and autonomous vehicles to transform how we:

  • connect people
  • deliver goods
  • provide services.

Gathering insight

Pivotal to the uptake, roll out and the success of future flight technologies are public:

  • perceptions
  • trust
  • social desirability.

So the challenge has brought in social science research alongside further technology development. This helps build a comprehensive understanding of the complex public, community and stakeholder attitudes, concerns or expectations that will inform societies thinking about future flight.

This approach leads the way globally in gathering community and social insight.

Industry expertise

The challenge connects industry, government and regulators in working groups which discuss, tackle and solve issues from across the sector. They help provide input and insight to government strategy and regulatory policy to ensure future flight becomes a reality in the UK.

Video credit: UKRI. An autogenerated transcript of the video is available on YouTube.

Why we're doing it

Many organisations, in the UK and globally, are developing novel vehicle technologies covering drones, advanced air mobility vehicles and zero-carbon regional aircraft. These novel aircraft will enable the creation of new markets worth over $675 billion by 2050.

To benefit from these new markets in autonomous air logistics, air taxis in dense urban environments and distributed, sub-regional aviation while maintaining high safety levels, every aspect of the wider aviation system needs to develop radically and quickly.

For example:

  • air space management systems must evolve
  • new infrastructure concepts must be designed
  • cyber-secure, connected digital systems are required
  • new business models created.

In addition, new regulations and standards in many areas must be developed by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and public concerns must be addressed around:

  • noise
  • sustainability
  • intrusion
  • safety.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Find funding opportunities

Read more about UKRI business funding opportunities.

Funding opportunities may fund research and development projects that are classed as feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development.

For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, the following intervention rates may apply:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, the following intervention rates may apply:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • up to 25% if you are a large organisation

Capital costs may be funded through some funding opportunities with intervention rates of up to 80%.

Industry resources

Vision and roadmap

Compiled by leading experts from industry, academia and government, the future flight vision and roadmap sets out how zero emission air travel within and between British cities could be commonplace by 2030.

Find out more in the Future flight vision and roadmap.

Public dialogue work

The paper outlines the starting point for wider engagement across academia, industry, and the public sector

Future flight social science considerations and research.

Working groups

Recognising the industry challenges that could hamper the acceptance and integration of this future aviation system the challenge is setting up working groups to discuss, tackle and solve these issues.

The working groups will draw on expertise from across the industry to help provide input and insight to government strategy, regulatory policy and create alignment to ensure future flight becomes a reality in the UK.

The Future Aviation Industry Working Group on Airspace Integration (FAIWG:AI) brings together stakeholders from industry to help provide input and insight to government strategy and regulatory policy for integrating new air vehicle types into UK airspace.

The Future Flight Community Integration Group brings together stakeholders from a range of local communities, government, and industry to ensure the successful integration of future flight services across the UK in a way that delivers the most societal and economic benefit.

See publications from the future flight working groups

Socio-economic benefits

The Future Flight Challenge asked PwC to develop and test a holistic framework for assessing the potential costs and benefits of six use cases selected by the challenge.

Findings from the Future Flight Challenge socio-economic study.

Safety case framework

Egis and the University of York, on behalf of the Future Flight challenge, present their findings into the potential technological developments that will influence aviation safety.

Future Flight Challenge: initial safety case framework.

Find partners using the Future Flight Landscape Map

This interactive landscape map provides insight into the capability in the UK to support the integration of new aircraft with the digital and physical infrastructure necessary for future flight.

Explore the map to find new collaborative partners and see the breadth of investment and expertise in the UK.

Explore the Future Flight Landscape Map (KTN)

Market assessment for advanced air mobility in the UK

This report outlines the market potential for 20 advanced air mobility routes across the UK.

Market assessment for advanced air mobility in the UK

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Funded and announced projects

Projects funded so far include:

  • using planes powered by hydrogen or electricity to open-up greener regional connectivity across the UK
  • working with Royal Mail and NHS Kernow to provide residents in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly with regular, reliable drone deliveries of mail and medical supplies
  • supporting the NHS across Scotland and north-west England with the CAELUS 2 and Morecambe Bay Medical Shuttle projects, which aim to deliver solutions to real-life problems in care delivery by:
    • reducing the time it takes for a sample to get to a laboratory, leading to quicker clinical decisions and treatment
    • allowing cancer patients to receive treatment in their local community rather than travelling long distances for chemotherapy
  • improving the way we carry out the surveying of critical infrastructure for example powerlines and railway tracks
  • creating a 165 mile drone highway in the sky, connecting Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby
  • demonstrating the feasibility of a UK advanced air mobility ecosystem using emission-free electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, with flights taking place in south-west England, and between London Heathrow Airport and the Living Lab vertiport
  • supporting a ‘pop-up airport’ that will create the world’s smallest airports that can be deployed for example to support disaster emergencies.

Find out more:

Last updated: 28 February 2024

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.