Scaling New Heights: Investing in Future Flight

As part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge, Innovate UK Business Connect recently hosted its first Future Flight investor engagement event in Canary Wharf.

Posted on: 25/06/2024

The ‘Scaling New Heights – Investing in Future Flight’ event brought together private investors, Future Flight industry experts, innovative companies, and government representatives to explore the range of opportunities in this rapidly growing sector. Discussions spanned the physical and digital infrastructure required for Future Flight, as well as the full capital stack, touching on critical sub-sectors such as robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and sensors.

Attendees at the Future Flight event Scaling New Heights: Investing in Future Flight
Attendees at the Future Flight event Scaling New Heights: Investing in Future Flight

Showcasing the opportunity

The event began with Megan Phoenix and Conor Chaplin from Innovate UK Business Connect discussing the various kinds of support that Innovate UK can offer both innovative companies and investors, ranging from our network of over 45,000 unique organisations, our deep expertise and connections in emerging sectors, or the range of investment products we offer.

Gary Cutts, Challenge Director – Future Flight at Innovate UK, provided an overview of the UKRI Future Flight Challenge, including funding over a hundred cutting-edge collaborative R&D projects, developing the aviation safety case framework and future regulations, commissioning extensive social sciences research, engaging with communities, and developing the skills needed to continue strengthening UK aviation. He described the estimated $74 billion of market opportunities offered by the improved connectivity a digitally enabled, net-zero, new aviation system, across various segments including digital systems, services, aircraft systems, and infrastructure, and how the Future Flight Challenge is collaborating across industry and government, through forums such as the Future of Flight Industry Group, to unlock the full range of services and benefits that drones, advanced air mobility, and zero-emission sub-regional flight can deliver.

Prof Sir Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, spoke about the Drone Industry Action Group, a collaborative forum between government and industry that Sir Iain chairs, that is working to inform, support and shape the business environment that could lead to the successful commercialisation of drones across the UK. He also discussed the vision for the as well as the detailed pathways to deliver the vision for the UK to be a leader in emerging aviation technologies by 2030, and the pathways to achieving the strategic outcomes described in the Future of Flight Action Plan.

Wil Benton, Venture Partner at Aerospace Xelerated Co-Founder & Director at Metta, concluded the first half of the event with an impressive overview of the diverse range of UK-based startups that have been backed by Aerospace Xelerated, including Future Flight Challenge participants Flare Bright and

Deep industry insights

The second session of the day included a panel chaired by Corinne Matthews, Aerospace and Energy Sectors Lead at Somerset Council; Anne-Lise Scaillierez, CEO of the UK’s drone industry body ARPAS-UK; Chris Cain, Policy Director at the Strategic Aviation Special Interest Group (a part of the Local Government Association); and Connor Lyons, Innovation Lead at Associated British Ports and independent consultant. The panel discussed a range of issues from the perspective of end users, helping to provide investors with a better understanding of the scale of demand for Future Flight services and how such services are already being deployed in highly scalable scenarios such as asset inspection and monitoring and enhancing rural connectivity.

The event concluded with case studies from several innovative companies that have previously received funding through the UKRI Future Flight Challenge, showcasing their services and how they have leveraged private investment to develop new technologies with huge commercial potential.

Yuri Andersson, Executive Director at ANGOKA, shared details of how ANGOKA have maximised income and investment funding to develop a suit of solutions that protect connected device communications for smart cities and smart mobility technology, which has been deployed on projects such as Skyway and PORTAL, both part-funded by the UKRI Future Flight Challenge.

Andrea Wu, CEO of urban-Air Port® described the development of ground, air, and digital infrastructure to enable sustainable urban air transport and autonomous delivery drones, including the launch of Air One, a world-first, full scale vertiport demonstrator in Coventry, which was part funded through Phase 2 of the UKRI Future Flight Challenge.

John McKenna, Co-Founder and CEO of, concluded the day with a presentation about how autonomous drones are already being deployed at scale to solve real-world problems. Estimating a £5 billion market related to the upgrading of national grid infrastructure in the coming years, are working with the National Grid to autonomise grid infrastructure surveying and inspection, through highly-resilient, secure, and ultra-efficient new technologies. Some of this technology development has been enabled through UKRI Future Flight Challenge funding on the Atypical Airspace BVLOS Solution (AABS) project.

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 Business Connect is a delivery partner of the UKRI Future Flight Challenge.

Read the Future Flight Vision and Roadmap for more information. Developed by UKRI, this document sets out set the vision for the future aviation system in 2030 and establishes the roadmap that will position the UK as a global leader in advanced aviation solutions. You may also be interested in exploring opportunities to invest in innovation, including Future Flight.

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