Unlocking the UK's potential in Future Flight sector

In an evaluation conducted for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Frontier Economics has examined how public investment is helping to establish the UK as a major player in the burgeoning global future flight sector.

Sector challenges and opportunities

The future flight sector includes organisations which are developing, commercialising, producing and supporting the deployment of technologies or services related to unmanned aerial systems (UAS), advanced air mobility (AAM) or regional electric conventional aircraft.

Despite the UK's inherent strengths in regulation, design engineering and infrastructure, several market failures and institutional barriers threatens the competitive edge the country holds. The Future Flight Challenge (FFC) was initiated as a response to help overcome these obstacles and strengthen the UK's position in the future flight sector. The Challenge, set up in 2019, includes £125 million of public investment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), and a minimum of £175 million from industry contributions. This investment supports R&D competitions, knowledge transfer, and building evidence to support effective regulation, policy and commercial strategy.

The interim evaluation report, delivered in collaboration with Frazer-Nash Consultancy and BMG Research, includes an early assessment of the impact of the Challenge, and an evaluation of the delivery process.

Paving the Way: Early Successes

Drawing on a wide range of quantitative and qualitative data, our interim impact evaluation underscores the early successes from the FFC:

  • Accelerated collaboration: Collaboration between research and business consortia has thrived, fostering multidisciplinary and cross-sector partnerships.
  • Technology readiness: Significant advancements have been made, particularly in areas requiring interdisciplinary expertise.
  • Government and industry coordination: Enhanced cooperation signals sustained government interest, key to attracting private investment.
  • Private investment: Funding goals have been met, with positive effects on private investment leveraged by the Challenge.
  • Communication channels: Improved channels have formed between government and industry, supporting the creation of the Future of Flight Industry Group (FFIG).
  • Regulatory guidance: Valuable support has been offered in navigating complex regulatory processes, permits, and approvals.

Remaining Challenges: Navigating Headwinds

However, the report also identifies concerns related to regulatory delays, deteriorating perceptions of funding opportunities, perceived government policy lag, and the demand for specialised skills. Challenges in achieving flight demonstration approval within FFC timelines also persist.

Our interim report firmly illustrates early achievements in advancing the UK's future flight sector, driven in part by the FFC. As the sector evolves, the final impact evaluation in 2024 will provide a comprehensive assessment of its long-term contributions to the UK economy, growth, and societal benefits.

Read the full study here.

For more information, please contact media@frontier-economics.com or call +44 (0) 20 7031 7000.

Future Flight Challenge - Interim impact and process evaluation