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It is so great to be able to bring you another episode of our podcast, The FI Group Podcast Episode 4. Each time we’ve been been looking at a different aspect of R&D Tax Credits and the work that we do here at FI Group.

Episode 4 is available to listen to on the following platforms:

In this week’s episode, we look in detail at the aerospace sector and how this industry utilises R&D support by looking at some exciting projects. Joining out host Amber Farrington is Oliver Newton, a Aerospace Policy Advisor at ADS Group, who represent the aerospace, defence, security and space industries in the U.K. Alongside him, Utsav Oza, Senior Consultant and Technical Team Lead at AKKA Technologies, who tackle a large range of aerospace and aviation challenges.   

Hello and welcome to a podcast series brought to you by FI Group. FI Group are leaders in the field of R&D tax and for over 20 years have been helping companies fund their innovation.

I’m Amber Farrington, a consultant with FI Group, and in today’s episode we are going to be discussing the significance of Research & Development within the aerospace sector.  Today I am joined by Oliver Newton, aerospace policy advisor at ADS, and Utsav Oza, senior consultant and technical team lead at AKKA Technologies.

As leaders in the field of R&D tax, here at FI Group we are familiar with the excellent work being done in the aerospace sector and have a large presence in the Airbus home countries – being France, Germany, Spain, and the UK. Here in the UK, our clients work on aerospace projects related to wings of tomorrow, landing gear systems, fuel monitoring in aircrafts, and continuous R&D on the next generation of aircrafts, among many other innovations.

In previous episodes of this podcast series, we have covered in detail what R&D tax relief is and how companies can take advantage of it. However, we realise that R&D tax relief is but one way in which the government supports innovation in the UK, particularly within the aerospace sector. For this reason, I’ve asked Oli Newton of ADS Group to join us to provide some insight on the broader aspects of R&D support and how the aerospace sector uses it.  ADS Group, of which both FI Group and AKKA are members, is the trade association representing the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors. With over 1100 members all across the UK, ADS works closely with government to ensure the sectors’ interests are well represented.

Oli – why don’t you start by giving us an overview of R&D within the aerospace sector?

The aerospace sector has a long and proud history of investing in R&D, particularly in the pursuit of greater efficiency. It’s a fairly well-established fact that each new generation of aircraft is around 20% more efficient than its predecessor. For example, we see Airbus developing wings of tomorrow, and hydrogen aircraft with their zero-e concept range, and Rolls-Royce developing the next generation of jet-engine with its UltraFan demonstrator.

Of course, it’s not just fuel efficiency that the industry invests in – safety, noise, passenger comfort, and the ability to repair or maintain difficult complex parts, rather than have to replace them, are also key areas in which companies are striving to make improvements. I’m excited to hear about the projects Utsav is working on with AKKA.

The main delivery mechanism for R&D funding in the aerospace sector is through the Aerospace Technology Institute, affectionately known as the ATI. Joint Government-industry funding through the ATI runs until 2026 and will, in total, represent £3.9bn of investment in exciting R&D projects. Our hope is that this funding will be uplifted and extended beyond 2030 so that the transformational technology required to decarbonise aviation can be developed in the UK.

How has the COVID crisis impacted the sector?

Obviously, the aerospace sector has been hugely impacted by the crisis with flights grounded all over the world during the height of the crisis, and we haven’t seen a significant recovery thus far. It is difficult, just before the COVID crisis, the sector was in a really strong position. It was a really exciting time for R&D investment in the sector, and the challenge of climate change was something we really relished. Just before the world turned upside down, UK aviation and aerospace committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from UK aviation by 2050 with the publication of Sustainable Aviation’s Coalition decarbonisation roadmap.

COVID has accelerated the transition to a greener economy. We all remember the improved air quality, particularly in cities like London, at the height of the first lockdown, and more broadly people were commenting on the impact of not having planes flying. Now, the reality is that international aviation is responsible for 2-3% of total carbon emissions, but our share is going to rise as other sectors find it easier to decarbonise. So, we’re working hard with the Government to ensure we build back better, as they like to put it.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the government announce a ten-point plan for green industrial revolution, in addition to its spending review last week. What are your reflections of these announcements?

Those are two very significant announcements that have come out of the government in the last few weeks. Setting the direction for the months and years ahead.

Since the new Government came in we’ve heard a lot from them on their ambition to level-up, become a global science super power, and be global leaders when it comes to battling climate change. Until recently we hadn’t seen much in terms of substance. We’re starting to see that now.

Back in July the Jet-Zero council met for the first time. This brings together Government aerospace and aviation and the wider industry together. ADS is proud and excited to be represented on the council, along with a number of its members. The Government, through this work, has set bold ambitions for decarbonising flight. The Prime Minister would like the UK to be responsible for the first zero-emission transatlantic flight, so we are working to make that a reality.

More long-term, the goal is to achieve net-zero aviation by 2050. As I said, this is something the industry is already committed to in the U.K, and it is vital now that the Government provides us with the tools to make that a reality. R&D will sit at the heart of it, whether that’s through the development of new sustainable aviation fuels and infrastructure, improvements to core technology, or through the development of next-generation technology. Such as propulsion systems using new fuels like Hydrogen and short distance electric flights is a possibility in the not too distant future.   

You mention the Government’s 10-point plan, and within that is a £15m competition to support the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). Another £15m has been allocated to the FlyZero project being led by the ATI, and will look at the design challenges and market opportunity of potential zero-emission aircraft concepts.

In the spending review, we see £11bn allocated to BEIS for R&D. We’ll be working closely with them to identify how best that can support the aerospace sector.

What we need to see now is more substantial long-term commitments from the Government. For us, the priority as I alluded to before is funding for the ATI beyond 2026. We need to see an uplift, in order to increase investment in next generation technology, and some long-term certainty that projects scheduled to run beyond 2026 will be able to access ATI funding. This is necessary to accelerate the development of the game changing technologies that will enable us to achieve net-zero aviation by 2050.

Thank you Oli for that very useful broad overview of R&D within the aerospace sector and how the current environment has affected things for you politically, socially, and economically. I’d be really interested now in hearing some more about the specific kind of projects that companies within the aerospace sector are working on, which brings us over to Utsav.

Utsav is a senior consultant and Technical Team Lead at AKKA Technologies, where he manages Data Science, Modelling, and Simulation capabilities. As a global leader in engineering consulting and R&D services, AKKA supports the world’s leading industry players in their digital transformation and throughout their entire product life cycle.

In addition to also being a member of ADS, AKKA Technologies are an important client of FI Group, so I’ve previously had the privilege of working with Utsav and the team at AKKA in claiming R&D tax relief.

Oli has given us a really good overview of the wider R&D landscape in aerospace, with a particular focus on the environmental agenda.  We also discussed the impact of the COVID crisis on the sector. Utsav – I understand that your team at AKKA is currently working on a project in response to this. Could you elaborate?

I am leading a project that tackles passenger concerns onboard the aircraft. A survey of 4,700 air travellers by International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that the top three concerns of passengers on board the aircraft are, sitting next to someone who might be infected, using restroom/toilet facilities during the flight and breathing the air in the plane. To address these concerns, we are developing two novel solutions, a retrofittable solution for existing aircraft fleet, and an embedded solution for future aircrafts. The project is fully funded by Innovate UK.

If the conceptual study is proved successful, the technology has the potential to reduce the risk of contracting airborne diseases during the flight.

We are also in touch with rail companies to discuss the potential of using this technology on other modes of public transport.

Incredible Stuff! However, I know we are all looking forward to a life after COVID. I understand you are working on some other interesting projects. One that I’m particularly interested in is the Link & Fly project – could you elaborate on this one a bit more?

The “Link & Fly” concept addresses several air-mobility challenges of a not-so-distant future, dramatic increase in air traffic, subsequent airport infrastructure saturation, passenger experience, safety, environmental, and sustainability issues. Link & Fly is a multimodal air transport system including a detachable cabin, a wing propulsion carrier as well as a verticalized airport and in-city infrastructure aspects. We are not just looking at aircraft design, we are considering the full ecosystem of the aerospace and aviation industry. With this concept, AKKA has been studying the possibility of boarding directly in the city and using the detachable cabin as a means of road transport to reach the airport. This will enable smaller airports in a digitalized environment where all your flight information is promptly available directly on a smartphone. Once passengers have boarded, the cabin is transported directly to the runway with a clean energy tug-cum-elevator. The cabin is then linked to a wing carrier to initiate the take-off. Imagine yourself going to a train station, boarding the train and the cabin is attached to a (aircraft) wing directly, then transported to a runway and attached ready for take-off. This concept will reduce noise pollution and use alternative energies, in order to protect future generations.

The objective of the Link & Fly project is to do some technical feasibility and validation, and also demonstrate use of clean propulsion technology, compliment of electrical and digital aircraft systems, future cockpits. And test some automated systems, a means of simulating and training pilots in digital environments. A means for managing and coordinating operations through model-based systems engineering. Digitalising and security of information. Last but not least, the use of AI and creditable algorithms for maintenance and operations of aircraft fleets.

We are trying to fit in lot of concepts, we have 20,000+ consultants around the world. Every consultant is trying to pitch new ideas into this ecosystem.

What are the benefits of the Link & Fly project?

Internally the benefits are the Link & fly project acts as a platform for theoretical studies, and as proof of concept to provide solutions to future aerospace or aviation issues. The overall aim is to explore solutions that provide better passenger experience, less congestion in and around airports and the use of multi-functional aircraft that enable operators to cater for passengers, freight, VIPs, etc. The Link & fly project will allow more rotations of aircraft for airlines, thus reducing ground time and hence costs for aircraft on the ground. And finally, providing easy and improved cabin maintenance and cleaning, space saving for storage and ultimately cheaper tickets for passengers.

So what is the latest update with this project then? And are you working on anything else?

Yes, last year AKKA performed a successful test flight of the Link & Fly to validate the flight physics of the concept. AKKA has built a scaled (1:13) turbine jet drone of the Link & Fly model. This is the minimum scale model required to adequately reproduce flying conditions and validate the flight physics of the full-sized aircraft.

AKKA works with many aerospace clients to develop novel aircraft systems of the future.  For example, we have recently applied for a joint innovation funding with two other partners to develop the next generation of aircraft cabin ventilation systems. One of the partners is a leading airline and the other is a well-known aerospace company. AKKA’s consultants are currently supporting multiple R&D projects of leading Aerospace OEMs and suppliers (from concept & Intellectual Property generation to systems design & testing. Unfortunately, I cannot share the details of these projects due to its confidential nature.

Of course, completely understandable! Thank you so much for the information that you have provided, it’s a great insight into the work that you do at AKKA and overall within the aerospace sector.

That’s it for this week’s episode, thank you very much to both guests for joining. Oli, Utsav, it’s been a pleasure. If you liked this episode, subscribe so you don’t miss out on future episodes. To find out how we can help fund your innovation, head to FI-group.com for more information.  We’ll be back in two weeks time, thanks for listening.

If you liked this episode, please subscribe so you don’t miss out on future episodes. To find out how we can support you in your claim, please head to fi-group.com for more information, or contact us today. I’ll be back in two weeks’ time. Thank you for listening.