Why the sky is not the limit for the UK

How our aviation and aerospace industries are answering the Government’s call for digital transformation

The UK Government has set out a bold transformative vision for the aviation and aerospace industries, calling for a digitised future and closely integrated transport infrastructure, where eco-friendly and even autonomous aircraft are commonplace. “Digital transformation is touching all of our lives” says our UK CEO Victor Chavez, “and will change the way we interact with the world around us.” Our global investment into key digital technologies such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Security and Connectivity will support the government’s prosperity agenda to grow the UK economy.

Here’s what you need to know

The Government’s ‘Grand Challenges’ of Artificial Intelligence and Data, the Ageing Society, Clean Growth, and the Future of Mobility have prompted a great deal of thought and discussion across an eclectic range of industries. Society is already seeing the early benefits as new services and technologies emerge.

Now the UK Government has called for the aviation and aerospace industries to follow suit.

Part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, the Aerospace Sector Deal is perhaps the most ambitious challenge yet set out for any sector. It sets the scene not just generally for cleaner, greener air travel, but also for electric- and hybrid-engined passenger aircraft, both piloted and unpiloted.

These are profound changes. It means that even our childhood dreams of self-flying aircraft and flying taxis will one day come true. But what you may not realise, is that this future is a lot closer than you might think.

Laying the foundations

In July, at Farnborough Air Show, Thales and Cranfield University, alongside other industry partners, announced the development of the £67m Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC). This centre will be at the heart of Thales’ ambition for the future digital aviation ecosystem. Enormous strides have been made with connectivity, artificial intelligence, battery technology, computing power, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and much else besides.

In the future you will be able to summon an autonomous electric ‘air taxi’ from an app on your phone. Prototypes which can carry up to five passengers are already being tested. Piloted electric aircraft designed to carry a dozen or more passengers from London to Paris are also being tested. It’s all happening, and it’s happening right now.

The critical enabler for this future is the digital infrastructure that will underpin it. From cyber security to unmanned traffic management there are some ground-breaking technologies being developed by Thales in the UK that will build the future of flight. 

Steve Murray, Thales UK VP Strategy, has been leading our involvement in the Future of Flight Challenge, “Thales believes that the UK can be a global leader in developing the next generation of air mobility systems and digitising the aviation ecosystem and infrastructure they will need to operate in the future.”

Working towards the future

Thales is excited to be part of GKN’s new ‘Global Technology Centre’, in which 300 engineers will work with the UK research community and supply chain, to strengthen aerospace technology and support the UK Industrial Strategy.

Gareth Williams, vice-president of Thales UK’s security business, is passionate about this. “This is the start of the future,” he said. “As well as a broad experience of aviation and aerospace, we’re bringing truly world-class expertise in cyber security and data encryption to the project.”

“If there is one thing that technology companies have learned, it is that you must not - absolutely cannot - have digital transformation without exceptional cyber security. That’s what Thales does. We put trust into digital transformation.”

This, then, is the shape of future. A future where aircraft are fully integrated with the rest of the transport infrastructure. And a future of quieter, more efficient, less polluting aircraft which can fly from a broad, cost-effective network of small operating bases. Some of them will be battery powered. And some of them won’t even have a pilot or crew. And the Government wants the UK to lead the way.

Victor Chavez, Thales UK CEO, welcomed this bold new step for the UK. “The Government’s ambition laid out in the Aerospace Sector Deal and the Future of Flight Challenge provides the framework for organisations to invest with confidence in the UK. Thales looks forward to being at the heart of this revolution in the future of mobility.”

Since Frank Whittle fired up his first jet engine in April 1937, Great Britain has been a leader in aviation and continues to have the second largest aerospace sector in the world. The time has come to reinforce that world leadership by developing the trusted technologies that will make the world green, clean and more mobile than ever before. For Thales, at least, the sky is not the limit.