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Aerospace industry executives have warned that new cutting-edge technologies could be developed overseas if the UK government does not increase funding for research and development.
The industry has held talks with ministers to ensure state support for research into next-generation technologies such as electric aviation and hydrogen-powered aircraft, seen as vital if the UK is to meet its goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Funding for this research has in the past been channeled through the Institute for Aerospace Technology. However, concerns about the government’s commitment to the sector were fueled in the spring when it emerged that the ATI had suspended funding for new research projects until next year. The timing of this decision was greeted with dismay by the industry, given the government’s green agenda.
The institute’s £ 300million annual research budget is currently funded equally by industry and government. The industry is calling for the total government share to reach around £ 3.8bn by 2030, which would match the industry, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
This level of support would unlock up to £ 27bn of industry investment through 2050.
Senior industry executives attended a meeting with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng earlier this month to discuss what the sector could achieve with more funding ahead of next month’s spending review, several people confirmed. familiar with the situation.
As the industry stood ready to invest in the UK, companies needed to secure long-term government commitment, especially in the face of international competition, an executive said.
The message, the executive said, was: “Please invest in the industry, there is money ready to go if the government steps up.” A second said: “You can’t catch up in this industry if this investment goes overseas.
Many pointed to the much more generous levels of support provided to the sector by France and Germany during the pandemic, largely linked to decarbonization.
The ATI, whose project partners include large players such as Airbus and Rolls-Royce as well as smaller companies, was established in 2013 as a collaboration between government and industry to define the technology strategy of the sector.
About 80 percent of its current research projects are helping to reduce emissions in one way or another, according to the ATI.
Informal feedback from its members received by ADS, the industry’s trade body, in the aftermath of the decision to suspend funding, revealed that about half said it would be difficult for their businesses to invest in the UK if there was no government support, several people confirmed.
The move, said a senior aerospace executive, was also “completely at odds with the government’s net zero commitment.”
“At a time when next-generation technologies are being launched from a global aerospace industry, the opinion was that they don’t care,” they added.
Relations between the industry and the UK Department for Business have improved since the spring, several executives said. Kwarteng is seen as favorable to the sector, but concerns remain about the level of monetary support from ATI.
Kevin Craven, CEO of ADS, declined to comment on the recent meeting with Kwarteng, but said: securing industry investments in the UK worth several billion pounds by 2050. “
Industry and government, he added, “were working closely and constructively to ensure that investments in aerospace R&D maximize the contribution to UK prosperity under the opportunity. of the world market to develop next-generation aviation technology “.
The Business Office said the UK had a “clear strategy to ensure that the aerospace industry in particular remains a world leader”.
“Guided by the British Aerospace Technology Strategy, we are investing £ 1.95 billion from 2013 to 2026 in aerospace research and development through the Aerospace Technology Institute program, representing a total investment of 3.9 billion sterling until 2026 when matched by the industry. “