Future Flight Challenge New Year Update

An update from Gary Cutts, Challenge Director, on this four year Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Challenge.

As it is the new year, the phase 1 invitations have been issued and I am officially now the permanent Challenge Director, I felt a New Year blog was in order. I will do this every 3rd or 4th month to “chat” about the Future Flight Challenge more broadly.

Posted on: 14/05/2020
An update from Gary Cutts, Challenge Director, on this four-year Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Challenge


As it is the New Year, the phase I invitations have been issued and I am officially now the permanent Challenge Director, I felt a New Year blog was in order. I will do this every 3rd or 4th month to “chat” about the Future Flight Challenge more broadly.


Since joining Innovate UK in April 2019 we have launched the programme, opened up the competition for Phase I and well, closed the competition for Phase I too. We have established an Advisory Board, a Programme Board, detailed our benefits, impacts, risks, challenges and opportunities to align to the required governance structures of the Industrial Strategy Challenge programme. All of which is important, all of which is necessary, but not necessarily something of major insight to those seeking to engage or better understand Future Flight.


Since April, a quick look at my diary and I estimate I have met some 100 organisations on a one to one basis. On average at most meetings I attend there are maybe two representatives of each organisation and, if I add that to those on briefings and networking events that we as a Future Flight Team have delivered in partnership with KTN, I will have met over 600 individuals. I knew I would be expanding my network, but this is something else. But what am I learning as a result of these interactions….?


Regulation, regulation, regulation. The work we are doing with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will move up our priority list in 2020. Every discussion I have references regulation and so the importance of this activity is to be recognised. The CAA launched their innovation hub over a year ago and they are new recruiting resources into the hub; these will be specifically allocated to Future Flight. When I, or the Future Flight Team, are out and about in the next few months our work with the CAA will be shared in more detail.


Innovative, creative and entrepreneurial UK – companies of every shape and size have been energised by the Future Flight Challenge. The established players of the aerospace community have shared insights on their own plans and I have been pleasantly surprised at their breadth of thinking, creativity and engagement outside of their traditional aerospace supply chains.


I have met a lot of smaller organisations with solutions to healthcare services, blue light services and rural postal services who articulate their business cases with clarity and detailed analysis. The spectrum of universities has been incredible – in previous industrial roles I worked with many universities but this role has enabled me to connect much more widely and in particular with the social sciences community who can bring much needed insight into the programme.


My final meeting of last year was with the Met Office. If you wanted a good reminder of the breadth of this programme than there’s no better example. We chatted about how weather conditions can impact the sensors required for autonomous flight and whether we might need to predict how wind whistles round tall buildings in cities – a much bigger deal when you want to fly between them!


Away from all the detailed content can I just take a moment out to say how lucky I feel to be here right now as the permanent Challenge Director. Having decided to do something completely different this time last year, I made a list of the characteristics of my ideal job (feel free to tut and mumble “typical engineer”!!) On there were learning new things, looking to the future and working on stuff that really matters. I got all that and have also had the real pleasure of working with and meeting some fabulous folk.


And so where to next? Our major milestone is the workshop in February. This two day, invite only, event will shape the research and development themes for Phase II, the Development Competition. Our discussions and the expressions of interest have given us a lot of insight already and this workshop will really “nail” the themes of Phase II.  It is now too late to get involved in February’s workshop but it is not too late to become engaged with the Future Flight Challenge.


Once the competition for phase II has opened, we will run a series of networking events. The need for bigger, richer, more diverse consortia in comparison to a stereotypical CR&D competition cannot be understated. The problem statements we are focusing on must be addressed for the aviation sector and its customers as a whole, so we will be working hard to further enhance the connections and support consortia development. For once, bigger will most certainly be better.  Please watch out for the announcement of the events on the KTN website.



Future Flight Challenge

The Challenge marks the start of a new wave of innovation for UK-based businesses working in all aspects of aviation – from drone developers to city planners, from large aircraft manufacturers to the airfields of the outer Hebrides – the challenge is not to be underestimated.  Future Flight will bring stakeholders from the manufacturing, operations and regulatory fields of aviation to activate the third revolution in aviation.

More information can be found here and my previous Challenge update can be found here.


If you’d like to contact the Future Flight Team, you can contact me at Gary.cutts@innovateuk.ukri.org, or get in touch with another member of the Future Flight Team, simon.masters@innovateuk.ukri.org or ruth.mallors-ray@innovateuk.ukri.org.


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