Manufacturing funding

Claire Burrows

Clear for take-off: collaboration key to £1bn investment success

Claire Burrows, Partner and specialist regulatory compliance lawyer at leading independent law firm Brabners, highlights how smart regulation can leave the aerospace sector in prime position to capitalise on recent Government funding boosts.

The lead up to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement contained a great deal for the North’s world-leading aerospace industry to be excited by – not least an announcement of £4.5bn of new funding to support the UK’s broader strategic manufacturing sectors.

The new funding – which runs from 2025-2030 – includes just under £1bn of fresh backing for the aerospace sector to support the transition to net zero through the development of energy efficient and zero-carbon aircraft equipment. In essence, it represents a pivotal opportunity for northern aerospace to solidify its position at the forefront of international innovation.

However, as is the case during any period of technological advancement – be that the transition to net zero, or the growing influence of AI – regulatory guardrails need to be in place to ensure that the sector is able to seize the opportunity both safely and effectively.

As outlined in Dame Angela McLean’s accompanying independent review into the regulatory landscape within strategic and advanced manufacturing, there are a number of areas for aerospace businesses and regulatory bodies to consider if the new funding is to be put to best use from the off.

Barriers to adoption

High quality, flexible regulation can play a pivotal role in the commercialisation of new technologies. For example, both automated and collaborative robots (often labelled ‘cobots’) can help manufacturers operate more efficiently, effectively and sustainably. However, a lack of clear safety standards has acted as a barrier to their widespread adoption and deployment in the UK. Indeed, as a nation, we currently sit 24th in the world robot density rankings – which measure international adoption of automation – making the UK the only G7 country to sit outside of the top 20.

Similarly, electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft, which have long been heralded as representing the next step in the development of passenger aerospace, require “disproportionate permissions” for early-stage testing in the UK.

The aerospace sector is not alone in this issue – with other tech-enabled sectors like life sciences experiencing a disconnect between the rapid pace of change and the ability of regulation to keep pace and support innovation and its subsequent commercialisation.

Stronger together

However, as outlined by Dame McLean’s independent review, it is not beyond the sector to remedy the issue – particularly if a more collaborative approach is adopted between the private sector and regulatory bodies. One such recommendation is the continuous secondment of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into industry and vice versa – enabling swifter and more practical development of new standards and regulation.

Traditionally, the private sector has been the subject of scrutiny from the HSE, rather than a partner, and this may understandably pose cultural challenges when it comes to knowledge exchange. However, a failure to utilise the experience and expertise of each party to close any knowledge gaps would be a wasted opportunity and compromise the speed at which the sector can commercialise new technology.

Regional considerations

Similarly, the McLean review also calls on the government to encourage further collaboration between industry and academia to shape responses to a range of issues, from interoperability in key technologies to developing sustainable manufacturing practises.

The North West is home to a high concentration of world class educational institutions that operate in tandem with some of the UK’s most exciting and innovative aerospace businesses. This presents a real opportunity for the region to be at the forefront of the UK’s modernisation efforts.

Ways in which to drive northern innovation and productivity have also been a key focus among Brabners’ True North network, which comprises change-making organisations from across the region including aerospace leaders like the AMRC and educational institutions such as the University of Liverpool.

A common theme emerging from our discussions with these stakeholders is that collaboration and the exchange of knowledge holds the key to unlocking the region’s potential and delivering inclusive growth.

This applies across sectors – yet the current wave of innovation and advancement sweeping UK industry makes it all the more important for aerospace businesses to be aware of the benefits a truly collaborative ecosystem can bring. In doing so, we can ensure that this £1bn opportunity isn’t wasted.

For more information on the True North network, and our efforts to boost collaboration in the North, click here.

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