Cranfield: Driving aviation innovation & building the tech of tomorrow
“We need to get to grips with commercial aviation greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of our children and our fragile environment.” These are the words of the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Shapps made the statement on Friday as he was calling on the aviation industry to “take the lead” in launching a “green transport revolution.”
With climate change at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the push from the UK government could not be more welcome.
As world leaders commune in New York this week at the United Nations Climate Summit, a major focus of policy shift will be the aviation industry. Aviation is one of the most energy and carbon intensive forms of transport, whether measured per passenger kilometre or per hour travelling.
In the UK, the share of emissions taken up by aviation is predicted to grow from around 6 percent today to 25 percent by 2050, even if the sector is successfully capped at level of 37.5 Metric tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to UK aviation emissions in 2005) which has been recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.
Achieving the level of change needed to curb emissions and still keep people travelling is going to take a significant amount of groundbreaking innovation. Just as with so much innovation, those first steps will happen in higher education.
Cranfield University – known for its world-class aviation expertise – has been awarded £1.2 million (US$1.5 million) to create a UK Aviation Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship cluster. Named AVIATE+, the project will help small businesses and startups to develop the technology so badly needed to improve the industry.
SMEs will be supported by the university through specialist facilities, programmes, and collaborations.
“Aerospace has been identified by the UK Government as being strategically important to our economy, yet there is a lack of specialist business incubators for this sector,” Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at Cranfield University, Professor Tom Stephenson, said in a statement.
“With technology developing at pace, including drones and electric-powered flight, we are now in an ideal position to accelerate innovation in aviation. We’re delighted to support small firms who have high-growth potential in this sector, and bring to fruition the technology of tomorrow.”
The new investment will build on the already established Cranfield Eagle Lab. This on-site business incubator is supported by Barclays bank and has helped early-stage companies with, not only the university’s expertise, but the input of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Garfield Weston Foundation, and other aerospace industry partners.
The new University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) funding will add to this initiative, creating additional grow-on space for businesses with new workshops and aviation facilities with capacity for large components and data connectivity.
It is hoped the new initiative will spur the local aviation business – a staple of the UK economy – as well as develop the technology of the future.
“Just as the UK led the world as a pioneer of international commercial flight in the twentieth century,” said Shapps. “I want the UK to become a hotbed for the design, manufacture and use of electric planes in the twenty-first century and to seize a share of a market that could be worth £4 trillion (US$5 trillion) globally by 2050.”