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Future flight challenge phase 2: Strand 2, development


UK-registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £30million to develop integrated aviation systems and vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Innovate UK will invest up to £30million in innovation projects in phase 2 of the Future Flight Challenge. They will fund projects that develop integrated aviation systems and/or vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles. Solutions should be able to be integrated into a mature operational environment, ensuring safe and reliable operation in flight and on the ground.

This is phase 2 of a three-phase programme. In this phase, Innovate UK are funding projects of between six months and up to 18 months duration.

This competition phase has two strands, this is strand 2.

Strand 2 encourages applications from larger consortia who wish to undertake significant and ambitious projects that strive to integrate technologies and systems.

Strand 1, the “fast track” strand encourages applications from smaller businesses and organisations who may not work within the aerospace / aviation sector.

Innovate UK plan to open phase 3 of this programme in winter 2021 when they will invite projects, including those who are not part of phase 2, to demonstrate an integrated ‘system of systems‘ approach to the operation of new air vehicles in non-segregated airspace.

For this competition, phase 2, strand 2, your proposal should describe routes into phase 3 and how you would work with other consortia.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of the competition is to develop and demonstrate integrated aviation systems enabling the introduction of new classes of electric and/or autonomous air vehicles. These could include drones, urban air mobility vehicles or electric regional aircraft.

A ‘system of systems’ approach is required to address the interdependencies between vehicles, the airspace and the broader infrastructure of aviation, including operators, service providers and end users. Projects are expected to address the integration challenges of new air vehicles, and by default their innovative capabilities, for example, autonomy into the aviation system. The aviation system is the operational framework into which air vehicles fly in and out of airports, airspace, rural and urban environments.

Projects are sought in the following areas:

  1. Development. The development of a system of capabilities which will lead to a specific use case demonstration. This demonstration can be within the timescales of phase 2 or could require further activity to develop and demonstrate in phase 3. In either case, Innovate UK will require a roadmap for your proposed activities in both phases.
  2. Enabling. Development of enabling systems of capabilities that could be used nationally, aiding UK registered businesses collectively to accelerate commercialisation whilst influencing international regulatory developments. Innovate UK are particularly interested in the development of national capabilities in
  • Networks of test facilities
  • Data infrastructure
  • Aviation system simulations or “digital twins”

Innovate UK are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets, technological maturities and research categories. Priorities would be given to:

  • Projects with multiple partners across multiple sectors and disciplines
  • Micro and small SMEs, especially first-time applicants and from businesses outside the aerospace sector

Knowledge sharing

You must participate in a biannual knowledge transfer workshop (organised by Innovate UK). There you will openly share insights and progress with other projects funded by this competition, in the interests of UK industry. You should not disclose any commercial sensitive information or any material that would put your intellectual property (IP) at risk.

Specific themes

For development projects, you can focus one or more of the following but will ideally take a system of systems approach covering several of:

  • Air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems
  • Both physical and digital infrastructure to support future flight objectives
  • Autonomy
  • Digital and communications systems
  • New business models
  • Public acceptance
  • Transport integration
  • Vehicle technologies enabling integration to the new aviation systems
  • Simulation
  • Non-aerospace regulation
  • Viable, challenging, use cases
  • Total security systems

This is not an exhaustive list. Projects not on this list but which can address the Future Flight Challenge objectives may also be considered in scope.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £500,000 and £10million.

In addition to the match funding, projects must also state in their application:

  • How much follow-on investment is expected in the 24 months after project completion
  • And how this will be reported to Innovate UK.

All projects must end by 30 March 2022. Projects can last between six months and 18 months.

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business of any size
  • Have an SME as a project partner if the lead organisation is not an SME
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • Collaborate with other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business, public sector organisation, charity or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • Be invited to take part by the lead organisation
  • Enter its costs in the Innovation Funding Service

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs. They must be entered into an appendix to question 10 and not into the finance summary in your application.

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the European Economic Area (EEA). Innovate UK would expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs.

Multiple applications

Any one business can lead on up to two applications and collaborate in up to three further applications across the two strands.

If a business is not leading an application, they can collaborate in up to five applications across the two strands.

Research organisations can collaborate on any number of applications.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £30million across the two strands to fund innovation projects in this phase 2 competition.

If your organisation is primarily engaged in commercial or economic activity (known as selective advantage) as part of the project you must ensure your request for funding does not exceed the limits defined below. This includes organisations that typically act non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

For industrial research and feasibility projects you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • 50% if you are a large organisation

The research organisations in your consortium undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can claim up to 100% of their total eligible project costs and share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs.

Research organisations undertaking economic activity follow the rules for businesses above.

If you are in a collaboration, total project grant funding must not exceed 50% of your total eligible project costs. This is regardless of the individual partners’ grant claims.

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Aid for research and development projects’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid..

Innovate UK are not funding:

  • Projects which only focus on aircraft technology development, such as ones with consortia made up entirely of aerospace manufacturers
  • Applications solely focused on defence or space applications of autonomous and/or electric flight
  • Fundamental research or experimental development projects

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.