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Future flight challenge phase 3: Strand 2


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 underpinning 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.

Your proposal must focus on developing the enabling technologies that support the operation of drones, advanced air mobility (AAM) or sub-regional electric aircraft in a representative environment and whilst meeting a viable and challenging use case.

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

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

In Strand 2, projects must focus on developing enabling technologies and cross-cutting systems that support the deployment of these novel air vehicles in UK airspace.

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £500,000 and £4million.

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 zero-carbon aircraft

For Strand 2 of the competition, your project must focus on the enabling and cross-cutting technologies essential to support the safe and effective operation of these new vehicle types.

You must clearly demonstrate how the enabling technologies you are developing combine to support an overall aviation “system of systems”. Where appropriate, the participation of end users or operators in your project would be advantageous.

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 will work closely with projects to support the achievement of projects and overall programme objectives. This may include suggesting changes of scope, 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

You must clearly demonstrate how the enabling technologies you are developing combine to support an overall aviation “system of systems” that supports the different classes of Future Flight aircraft.

Your project must focus on one or more of the following, to demonstrate the operation of vehicles in a representative environment while meeting a viable and challenging use case with:

  • A real-world use case application which drives integration of the different aviation system elements for each of the three Future Flight vehicle classes
  • AAM: Inter-town transport or Intracity Transport
  • Drone or AAM cargo delivery
  • Drone or AAM medical delivery
  • Hub and spoke drone delivery service
  • AAM Infrastructure or Vertiport
  • Automated ground handling and charging systems
  • Operation of sub-regional electric aircraft
  • Air traffic management (ATM) and unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems
  • Digital and communications systems

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 £4million
  • Start on 1 April 2022
  • End by 31 March 2024
  • Last between 12 and 24 months
  • Carry out all of 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 organisations

Academic institutions cannot lead.

Project team

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 an application 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.

Of 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 or are standalone aircraft developments
  • Have no plan for engagement with an end-user or operator
  • Are developing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) for gas turbine or turboprop aircraft
  • Focus on defence or space applications of autonomous or electric flight
  • Are fundamental research or feasibility study projects
  • Are dependent on export performance – for example, giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • Are dependent on domestic inputs usage – for example, giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 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.