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Future flight challenge phase 3: Strand 1


UK-registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £65million to develop and demonstrate integrated aviation systems and new vehicle technologies. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £65million in innovation projects. Projects must demonstrate integrated aviation systems and vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles.

The aim of this competition is to fund projects that will deliver the 2024 vision of the Future Flight Challenge and position the UK as a leader in the third revolution of aviation. This competition will build on the success of the 2020 Phase 2 competition and will focus primarily on the demonstration aspects of these novel air vehicles and systems.

Innovate UK are looking to fund ambitious projects that will successfully integrate the technical, regulatory and social challenges necessary to prove these new modes of transport.

Your proposal must demonstrate the operation of vehicles or enabling systems in a representative environment whilst meeting a viable and challenging use case.

Projects must also support the overall objectives of the Future Flight Challenge and align with key Government policies on Net Zero Transport.

This competition is split into two strands. The strands are:

In Strand 1, projects must focus on the demonstration aspects of novel classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles and systems.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £500,000 and £15million.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to fund ambitious projects that will successfully integrate the technical, regulatory and social challenges necessary to prove new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles.

The Future Flight Challenge is based around three classes of aircraft:

  1. Drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)
  2. Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)
  3. Sub-regional electric or hybrid passenger aircraft

For strand 1 of the competition, your project must include a means of demonstration of one or more of these classes of aircraft and enabling systems, operating in a representative environment.

You should include the participation of end users or operators in your project and engagement with appropriate local authorities would be beneficial.

A clear understanding of the regulatory requirements and proposed route to achieving regulatory approval must be demonstrated.

Innovate UK want to fund a portfolio of projects, with a variety of technologies, markets, aircraft classes, use cases and research categories across both strands of this competition.

Consideration will be given to projects with a specific regional focus and ambitions for Net Zero transport solutions.

The Future Flight team reserves the right to approach and agree with projects’ changes of scope during the project lifecycle. This can include recommending changes to project partners and to combine or merge projects in order to achieve fully integrated demonstrations. It is expected that further funds may be available to support such changes.

Specific themes

Your project must focus on demonstrating the operation of aircraft in a representative environment whilst meeting a viable and challenging use case. Use cases should be real-world applications which drive integration of the different aviation system elements for each of the three Future Flight vehicle classes.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Demonstrations of multiple drones, operating as a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) service in a defined geographic area.
  • A multi-modal demonstration of different aircraft types operating in parallel providing an end-to-end solution
  • AAM vehicle operation in a representative environment
  • Scheduled sub-regional electric flights over a representative route

You can find further details of use cases that projects are recommended to align with on the Future Flight Challenge web page.

Your project must:

  • Have total eligible costs between £500,000 and £15million
  • Start on 1 April 2022
  • End by 31 March 2024
  • Last between 12 and 24 months
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

To lead a project, your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business of any size
  • Be or involve at least one UK registered SME
  • Collaborate with other UK-registered businesses, academic institutions, charities, not-for-profit, public sector organisations or research and technology organisations (RTOs)

Academic institutions cannot lead.

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following UK registered:

  • Business of any size
  • Academic institution
  • Charity
  • Not-for-profit
  • Public sector organisation
  • Research and technology organisation (RTO)

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account and enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service.

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding by entering their costs during the application.

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.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must also provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you.

Innovate UK expect all subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. Innovate UK will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

Number of applications

A business can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further two applications.

Organisations not leading can collaborate on any number of applications.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

Innovate UK will not award you funding if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

This competition provides funding in line with the UK’s obligations and commitments to Subsidy Control. Further information about the UK Subsidy Control requirements can be found within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement and the subsequent guidance from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. Innovate UK will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see the general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the UK Subsidy Control regime or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. Innovate UK are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must make sure at all times that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.

This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.

If there are any changes to the above requirements that mean Innovate UK need to change the terms of this competition, they will tell you as soon as possible.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £65million to fund innovation projects across the two strands of this competition.

If the majority of your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

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

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

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • Up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • Up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • Up to 25% if you are a large organisation

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Research participation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

Off that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-s registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your eligible project costs if you are an RTO, charity, non-profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • Are a development of systems or sub-systems for application to large civil passenger aircraft
  • Do not include any form of demonstration
  • Have no plan for engagement with an end-user or operator
  • Are developing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) for gas turbine or turboprop aircraft
  • Focus solely on defence or space applications
  • Are dependent on export performance – for example, giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that they export a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • Are dependent on domestic inputs usage – for example, if they insisted that a baker use 50% UK flour in their product

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.