Arc Universities

Iain Gray is Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University. He is also Chair of OCAVIA, the Oxford – Cambridge Arc’s Virtual Institute in Aviation; a grouping of five of the Universities of the Arc, working together to complement existing efforts in the creation of a zero-emission aviation sector. In this article Iain looks at how we address the industry’s impact on the environment, together with continuing to develop our international standing as market leaders of innovation and regulatory reform. Only by working together can we drive both forwards.

“Aviation is a capability that has reduced miles to minutes to shrink the globe in ways not really imagined by the pioneers of the early days. Articulate climate change activism seeking wide spread societal transformation have targeted aviation as a global sector that must do more and go faster on its attempts to reduce its impact on the climate. The pandemic, having grounded fleets globally, has stimulated a prolonged moment of reflection on its business model and its role in the race to zero emissions. 

Pre-Pandemic, aviation generated £84bn to GDP and employs close to 1.25m people. 75% of all visitors travel to the UK by air, adding a further £20bn to GDP. Almost 40% of exports leave the UK by air to reach their final destinations. 

The global aviation sector produces 2 to 3% of global CO2emissions, as well as NOx and other non CO2 radiative forcing issues such as contrails. The organisation Sustainable Aviation has shown how aviation can accommodate a 70% growth in passengers by 2050 whilst reducing net carbon emissions levels from just over 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year down to zero. But it requires transformative developments across the value chain of the sector.

We stand at a cross roads; do we drive forwards to address the impact of the sector on the environment or do we risk losing international standing as market leaders of innovation and regulatory reform in aviation? We drive forwards.

The UK has several programmes in play to consider, combine and collaborate on solutions. The Jet Zero Council (JZC) is a partnership between industry and government to bring together ministers and chief executive officer-level stakeholders of aviation. It aims to deliver zero-emission transatlantic flight within a generation, driving the ambitious delivery of new technologies and innovative ways to cut aviation emissions. There is a raft of other programmes that are stimulating the much-needed innovation and transformation to achieve a greener aviation:

  • The Aerospace Technology Institute is supporting the investment into both current and future aircraft.
  • ATI’s FlyZero programme, an aircraft design concept, will produce a technology blueprint for zero emissions aircraft, equipping UK based businesses to lead on sustainable aviation transformations internationally.
  • Work is also taking shape to consider the sourcing and provision of sustainable aviation fuels.
  • The Future Flight Challenge is supporting development of an aviation system capable of safely operating new aircraft incorporating electric and autonomous systems which have been “born green”. 

Five Universities of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc have been working together to consider how they can bring their capabilities together to complement existing efforts in the creation of a zero-emission aviation sector. The Arc has identified that much of the efforts today are focused on the propulsion and power systems of the aircraft, indeed this is the main contributor of CO2. Novel power systems though will create domino effect challenges, namely:

  • Such systems have to be integrated into novel aircraft designs
  • These new aircraft then have to be integrated into mature aviation operations 

So the Arc will create OCAVIA, the Oxford to Cambridge Arc’s Virtual Institute in Aviation to model, simulate and consider these integrations. Research will also go further still to consider the economics and the implications of energy requirements as aviation transitions from kerosene to other power systems.”

Read the report outlining OCAVIA’s commitment to creating a zero emissions aviation industry.

Professor Iain Gray, Chair of OCAVIA and Director of Aerospace, Cranfield University

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