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Heathrow partners with Digital Catapult on project to improve efficiencies and cut costs in aviation industry

Posted 18 Feb 2021

Heathrow has successfully pitched the forward-thinking Fly2Plan project, led by a consortium involving Digital Catapult, to Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge. The win gives the airport the opportunity to research new ground-breaking concepts that, in future, could help to cut costs and make the airport more efficient as the industry works to recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

The project aims to learn how new technologies such as cloud infrastructure and blockchain could use the airport’s data more efficiently, creating a decentralised, resilient and efficient operating model to support cross-company collaboration. The concept has the potential to unlock opportunities for new entrants, cut costs and safely allow autonomous drone operators to maximise their use of UK airspace.

Digital Catapult is one of thirteen partners from across multiple sectors and disciplines working on the project. Its role will include leading on product management, advising on service design, and supplying invaluable deep technology sector knowledge – to guide better informed decision-making amongst its commercial partners in the consortium.

The remaining consortium members for the Fly2Plan project are NATS, IBS Software, SITA, Cirium, Rockport Software, Consortiq, TEKTowr, Altitude Angel, Digital Catapult, Oxford University and Cranfield University.

Fly2Plan is closely aligned with the Prime Minister’s key ambitions. The efficient use of airspace is vital for creating the trade opportunities needed to make Global Britain a reality, while autonomous drones could support ambitions to level up every corner of the country by connecting more of the UK’s regions to global growth, all while delivering on the industry’s commitment to build back better.

Robert Learney, Head of Distributed Systems at Digital Catapult said: “UK airports have a colossal amount of data at their fingertips, but many struggle to comprehend the untapped potential of this information.

“From the cloud to blockchain, technologies provide us with an exciting opportunity to use this data effectively – in this case, to cut costs, improve communications and collaboration, and even allow autonomous drones to use the UK airspace safely.

“We’re committed to championing industry, helping them embrace technological innovation as they set their sights on recovery from the pandemic – and are excited to be on board with the Fly2Plan project as a delivery partner.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye said: “Heathrow has always served as a testbed for ground-breaking green technologies. These concepts go further than ever before, with the potential to transform the role that aviation plays in Britain’s economy. The Future Flight Challenge has come at a critical time for the country and our industry.

“We’re proud to be driving forward with these disruptive initiatives in the year that the UK hosts COP26 and our industry builds back better, as we work to recover from the devastating impacts of this pandemic.”

Minister for Business, Paul Scully, said: “We’re investing in ambitious projects, like Heathrow’s development of a blueprint for zero-carbon regional air travel, to ensure the aviation industry is championing the latest cutting-edge technology.

“Pioneering research supported by government funding will help the UK build back greener from the pandemic, remain at the forefront of aerospace research and development, and demonstrate global leadership in the next aviation revolution. I look forward to seeing such proposals take flight.”

The Future Flight Challenge, funded through £125 million of government grants, has three overarching objectives, safeguarding the UK’s advantage in aerospace research and development, reducing aviation emissions and creating economic opportunities from new forms of air mobility. The Fly2Plan project has progressed to this stage of the challenge as it shows the potential to deliver on all three fronts.

Heathrow has kicked-off the first stage of the research of these concepts, which is set to take place through till early 2022. The next phase will see live demonstrations of the concepts in action with the long-term aim of wider adoption across the aviation industry. The hub airport is working with several groups across a number of sectors to bring this challenge to life including Oxford University, Cranfield University, NATS and SITA.

The challenge brings together established leaders in aviation, academics and SMEs and the tech industry to research the use of drones, air mobility, air traffic management as well as infrastructure innovation.