Future Flight Challenge announces ‘Closing the skills gap’ cohort

From virtual reality drone training and upskilling for local authorities, to new university course modules and mentoring in schools, 13 new projects have joined the UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge to address skills gaps in the UK’s rapidly growing future flight industry.

Posted on: 10/08/2023

Promoting STEM careers

Key to addressing skills gaps in the UK’s aviation and aerospace sector, particularly in relation to future flight services and technologies, is inspiring the next generation of professionals by showcasing the range of opportunities available and providing them with the skills they need to pursue a career in aviation. Newly funded projects in this area include:

  • School students visiting aviation facilities and designing and 3-D printing their own aircraft design models.
  • Providing online short courses in cybersecurity, targeted at groups currently underrepresented in the sector like women and girls.
  • Introducing students to mentors working in aviation to show them the opportunities available and routes to achieve their career goals.

Several projects are also developing short courses and modules specialising in Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) and Urban Air Mobility (UAM) in colleges and universities to equip undergraduates and postgraduates with the skills needed to excel in future flight.

Upskilling the UK’s aviation workforce

Just as important as inspiring the next generation of aviation professionals is supporting those already working in aviation so that the industry can benefit from a skilled workforce with diverse experiences across different specialisms and capabilities.

Through the Closing the skills gap competition, new training methods and programmes will be developed to:

  • Augment and enhance drone pilot training using virtual reality (VR).
  • Upskill the UK’s aviation maintenance workforce for future aircraft types and scenarios.
  • Develop safety training and risk management for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drone operations.

Vocational training and CPD

In addition to focussing on those working directly in future flight related areas, several projects will develop resources to equip professionals across the UK economy with the knowledge and skills to make the most of these new technologies.

For example, AAM Academy for UK City and Local Government (AAM4gov) will develop a resources library and interactive seminars to help local authorities and public bodies understand their role in accelerating the adoption of future flight services and how these services can help transform their residents’ lives and deliver wider socio-economic benefits and digiLab will develop an online course in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and their applications in future flight.

Working with Innovate UK KTN for success

Innovate UK KTN, a delivery partner on the Future Flight Challenge, played a pivotal role in this competition through a bespoke programme of webinars and one-to-one support. A quarter of projects that were successful in receiving funding via this competition received support and guidance from Innovate UK KTN, either with finding other organisations to collaborate with or having their draft applications reviewed ahead of submission.

Funded projects

  • To address knowledge gaps in the AAM industry around flight physics, the University of Nottingham will create and deliver an advanced course on AAM flight dynamics and performance both for undergraduate aerospace engineering students and as a CPD course for industry. The course will be based on modelling of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft and consist of lectures and seminars, as well as simulator sessions using the university’s Alsim AL250 flight simulator to provide a better understanding of pilot perception and aircraft performance for eVTOLs. The course will include topics such as flight physics, electric propulsion, flying and handling qualities, and modelling and simulation techniques.


    • University of Nottingham
  • Mentoring charity Brightside have partnered with ARPAS-UK, the UK’s trade association for drones, UAS, and RPAS, to support 100 year 10-13 students from disadvantaged backgrounds to explore roles and opportunities in the aviation sector. Students will have the opportunity to understand how they can pursue a career in aerospace and aviation and explore the different career options available to them such as apprenticeships, college, vocational education, university, or work. They will also hear experiences from dedicated mentors in the sector, sharing ideas about their future and setting goals and targets to work towards.


    • The Brightside Trust
    • ARPAS-UK
  • digiLab’s AI in the Wild programme offers hands-on courses that explore topics relating to data science, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI) by combining strong theoretical foundations with real-world applications. This project will build a new online training course, tailored to future flight challenges, to help upskill employees in AI and ML techniques. The course will demystify key concepts and introduce entry-level techniques before exploring more complex models and applications, all of which will be informed by industry partners and focussed on aviation data challenges and case studies, such as safety-critical component modelling and airspace management.


    • digiLab Solutions
  • DroneOps VR aims to transform the way drone pilots are trained using Virtual Reality (VR). VR is particularly useful for simulating scenarios that could be dangerous, impossible, or expensive to replicate in the real world and the aim of DroneOps VR is to provide a realistic and immersive training platform that enhances drone pilots’ hazard assessment, flight planning, and flight management skills.


    • Nudge Reality
  • This project aims to address the immediate skills gap in the UK’s maintenance workforce relating to electric flight. The project will make use of Skyborne Aviation’s extensive training experience and maintenance expertise to develop courseware and training delivery methods that will directly train a network of certifying technicians to provide an immediate kick start in addressing this skills gap. The project will also provide additional benefits by working with the aviation charity, fly2help, to engage with future engineers and pilots and help them to learn more about working in aviation.


    • Skyborne Aviation
  • Aimed at students studying full-time aviation courses in further education colleges across England, the Vertiport Design Challenge will raise awareness and develop students’ understanding of future flight. Students will tackle vertiport design scenarios that will challenge them to demonstrate creativity, teamworking and leadership skills. Participants will present their ideas to a panel of judges, with a Vertiport Design Challenge winner crowned later in 2023.


    • Harlow College
  • Project FLAME brings together academia and industry to develop a unique and exciting Masters university course for the future leaders of the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) sector. The course unlocks technical and social barriers to accelerate the growth of this important transport sector. The course will deliver a whole-systems perspective of AAM including vehicle design and technology, ground and airspace infrastructure, policy & regulation, and commercialisation. The course will blend theoretical and practical knowledge and will be delivered in a hybrid format to appeal to both recent graduates and industry professionals.


    • University of West London
    • Safeguard Engineering
    • Coptrz
  • InnovateHer, will expand its outreach activities for teens aged 13-17 by designing a cybersecurity learning programme on its e-learning platform, with supporting initiatives to be delivered in schools across the UK. The 6-8 week interactive cybersecurity course is being created to inspire and intrigue young people to consider careers in the future flight sector. Students will begin their journey as cybersecurity ‘apprentices’ and will receive virtual mentoring throughout the course, while learning about the different roles and opportunities within the cybersecurity sector and taking on challenges to emulate solving real-world cyber problems.


    • Innovate Her (Innovating Education CIC)
  • Over the last few years, industry stakeholders identified a mismatch between the basic skill assessments required in current drone certifications and the advanced skills required to operate UAS in complex industrial environments. Industry stakeholders also identified a need for specific flight skills for particular operational scenarios. Project Elevate will allow the production of a series of advanced skills tests that will provide remote pilots with certification to state they have met the minimum operational and technical flight skill requirements to allow them to operate in specific ECI scenarios.


    • Global Drone Training
    • Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB)
  • Aerofirm will develop a training course which focuses on the quantification of the risks associated with BVLOS to support the development of safety cases which unlock routine, scalable operations. The course will help address the gap of personnel who can generate these complex safety arguments, providing the tools needed to support this and develop a safety mindset to be embodied in current and future organisations. ARPAS-UK will also support the project by bringing together an initial cohort of its members to undertake and provide feedback on the course alongside a route to scaling the course.


    • Aerofirm
  • This project will develop a stackable AAM programme to train engineers in the overall system-of-systems architecture of integrated ATM and UTM ecosystems, their enabling technologies and infrastructure, and associated intelligent solutions (e.g., AI and cyber-physical systems). The programme will be based on a suite of CPD courses with attendees gaining credits from each of them, enabling attendees to stack modular credentials to build to the level of education at a pace that suits them, e.g., Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma and MSc. Throughout this journey, attendees will be recognised for their successful completion of a programme module.


    • Cranfield University
  • Local authorities have a critical role to play in the development of advanced air mobility/urban air mobility (AAM/UAM) and municipal drone services in the UK. AAM4Gov will develop an internet-based educational platform with six initial courses designed for professionals working in local government, complemented by a resource library and a series of ‘ask-the-expert’ interactive webinars which will provide local authorities with a vital resource to understand their role in developing drone and AAM/UAM eco-systems. These resources will help transform the lives of their citizens and accelerate the UK’s industrial potential in this strategically important global industry.


    • PMI Media
  • ZeroAvia has partnered with The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), a charity that aims to nurture critical thinking skills and inspire STEM careers by providing opportunities for research-based activities in the school curriculum to empower young minds, foster active participation in the scientific process, and nurture the engineers and scientists of tomorrow. This project will bridge the gap between education and industry by empowering secondary school students across the UK to learn about net-zero aviation by tackling real world challenges through a blend of webinars, face-to-face visits to industry facilities, decision making activities, and 3D printing their own aircraft design models, as well as attending an IRIS conference to present their work to their peers.


    • ZeroAvia
    • The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS)

About the Future Flight Challenge

The UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge, is a £300 million programme, co-funded by government and industry, that is supporting the creation of the aviation ecosystem needed to accelerate the introduction of advanced air mobility (AAM), drones, and electric sub-regional aircraft in the UK.

Delivered by Innovate UK and the Economic and Social Research Council, the programme works with industry, academia, government, and regulators to transform how we connect people, transport goods, and deliver services in a sustainable way that provides socio-economic benefits using new types of air vehicles with novel technologies.

Innovate UK KTN is a delivery partner of the UK Research and Innovation Future Flight Challenge.

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