Advancing UK Aerospace, Defence, Security & Space Solutions Worldwide
  • Home
  • /
  • Features
  • /
  • Delivering advanced UK air mobility by 2030

Features

Delivering advanced UK air mobility by 2030

Jeff Hoyle, Executive Vice President of Global Aero, Space and Defence and Managing Director UK and North America, Expleo, considers whether there is time enough to build an advanced air mobility sector in the UK by 2030.

Image courtesy Expleo

In the 1950s it was a popular prediction that the 21st century would see cars flying around above bustling cities. Flash forward to today and cars might not be flying yet but they could soon be under plans set out by the UK government to enhance mobility and the transportation of goods using advanced aviation technologies.

Advertisement
ODU RT 2

In its Future of Flight Action Plan, the Government is charting a course to make advanced air mobility a reality by 2030. The idea is to not only enhance connectivity and convenience but to position the UK as a global leader in the next era of transportation and aviation.

The plan’s primary objective is to integrate advanced aviation technologies like Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones and air-taxis that use electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) systems, into the UK's existing aviation and transport networks. The goal is to make short trip air travel and urban cargo transport faster, more accessible and more environmentally friendly.

The Future of Flight Action Plan certainly positions an exciting and ambitious future for air mobility in the UK but with the 2030 deadline not that far off, the sector faces a steep curve to scale up the technology, infrastructure and skills needed to make it a reality.

Technology and operational capabilities
Delivering this level of transformation in such a short period of time will greatly benefit from technologies like AI and digital twin.

AI is already enhancing decision-making processes and operational efficiency across a variety of sectors, including aerospace and defence. By analysing vast amounts of data including traffic patterns, weather information and real-time situational monitoring, AI could help to optimise flight routes for air taxis, while improving efficiency and reducing potential for sky-jams or congestion.

This capability extends to air traffic management, where AI can help automate processes, providing recommendations for adjustments in altitude and speed to maintain safe aircraft separations and predict potential bottlenecks. AI technology can even assist with aircraft upkeep by using sensor data and maintenance logs to predict potential failures before they occur and help implement predictive maintenance programmes as a result.

Applying digital twin technology to the development and testing of air taxis and UAS drones has the potential to offer significant benefits for real-world modelling, while keeping costs under control and working at pace towards the 2030 deadline. Digital twin tech can also be integrated into development data using various sensors and systems on the actual aircraft as well, allowing real-time monitoring and simulation.

This technology also has benefits for predictive maintenance and supports troubleshooting, helping to accelerate development times and improve the safety and efficiency of new urban air mobility solutions.

Lessons from automotive
In terms of developing autonomous navigation capabilities, the aerospace sector is learning from the approach in automotive, where such systems have been in place for more than a decade. Sensors and sensor fusion technologies — like LiDAR, radar and camera systems — allow cars to navigate and understand the environment they’re in. This type of tech can be transferred to urban air-mobility solutions, where similar sensor systems can be adapted for use in drones and air taxis for precise navigation and hazard detection.

For example, integrating deep learning and sensor fusion has helped the automotive sector improve the reliability and decision-making capabilities of navigation systems under various traffic conditions. This approach could be used to enhance the autonomy of urban air vehicles, by enabling them to respond to varying conditions during flight, manage complex flight paths and interact safely with other air traffic.

Advertisement
ODU RT

Infrastructural development needed
The Future of Flight Action Plan also discussed the need to scale up air mobility infrastructure with the creation of a national network of vertiports. These dedicated hubs for drones and air-taxis are designed with vertical  take-off and landings in mind, they also offer a place for units to charge and for maintenance to be carried out. It will be important for these vertiports to be located in both rural and urban areas to maximise accessibility and efficiency.

There is encouraging progress in developing a network of vertiports with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) initiating consultations on design proposals for vertiports at existing aerodromes. As with anything that requires consultation, we can expect this to take some time to complete, but it is an essential step in ensuring safe and effective operations are in place in time for 2030.

In addition to vertiports, it will also be necessary to develop an integrated air traffic management system capable of dealing with manned and unmanned flights. Development of this system could greatly benefit from AI integrations, which would enhance the real-time data processing needed to manage mixed-use airspace.

Regulations and framework development
Standards are already in place in the UK to govern the development and operations of eVTOL-enabled air-mobility. The CAA has adopted certification standards known as Special Conditions-VTOL (SC-VTOL) for the certification of eVTOL aircraft. These standards, also used by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), aim to ensure high safety levels for both the operation and manufacturing of eVTOL aircraft within the UK.

The CAA also published a document outlining the regulatory framework for UAS under UK Regulation. This classifies UAS into categories with distinct safety, identification and operational requirements. It also outlines specific duties for manufacturers, importers and distributors to ensure market compliance and high safety standards.

Skills development and industry impact
Although scaling up aerospace operations requires advanced technologies like AI and investment in infrastructure, it also requires a new wave of skilled professionals.

Training and education programmes will need to evolve to include engineering, aviation technology, cybersecurity and data analysis courses tailored to this industry. Developing these skills is not just about staffing the industry - it is about fostering innovation and maintaining the UK’s competitive edge in the global market.

The Future of Flight Action Plan predicts that if UAS and eVTOL systems are adopted at scale, they could contribute up to £45 billion to the UK economy by 2030 through productivity benefits and cost savings across various sectors from agriculture to energy to public services. Additionally, the socioeconomic benefits of advanced air mobility could range between £1 billion and £2 billion annually by 2040, including reductions in costs.

Air taxis and drones might not be the flying cars people dreamt about in the 1950s but by harnessing the latest technology, building new infrastructure and upskilling the workforce, we could achieve the lofty goals set out in the Future of Flight Action plan – and look up at a sky buzzing with drone deliveries and air-taxis very soon.

Advertisement
TT Electronics LB TT Electronics LB
Bringing innovation to life

Features

Bringing innovation to life

10 May 2024

Paul Adams, Director and aerospace and defence sector specialist at management consultancy Vendigital, defines the risks and challenges involved in taking innovative aerospace and defence products to market.

The rise of low-carbon aircraft

Features

The rise of low-carbon aircraft

24 April 2024

Stephen Gifford, Chief Economist at the Faraday Institution, examines the potential of three technologies being developed for future low-carbon aviation.

Prioritising sovereign capability

Features

Prioritising sovereign capability

17 April 2024

Martin Rowse, Campaign Director, Airbus Defence and Space, looks at why reinforcing the UK's security requires the prioritisation of sovereign capability across the country's defence and space sectors.

Insider threats: the risks employees can pose

Features

Insider threats: the risks employees can pose

8 April 2024

With insider threats on the increase, Noah Price, G4S Academy International Director, explains the risks and threats employees can pose to your organisation and how to prevent them.

Advertisement
ODU RT 2
Securing environmental licensing and sustainable data for spaceport operations

Features

Securing environmental licensing and sustainable data for spaceport operations

2 April 2024

Ruth Fain, head of advisory for ITPEnergised, who has worked with SaxaVord Spaceport, launch operators, local authorities and the CAA on environmental consent for UK spaceflight activities, outlines recommendations for future-proofing ongoing data collection for space operator activities in the UK.

Securing military connectivity in contested environments

Features

Securing military connectivity in contested environments

14 March 2024

Tristan Wood, founder of Livewire Digital, explores the power of hybrid networking and how it can underpin robust wide area networks across all arms and services, from land, sea and air.

Advertisement
ODU RT