The 2020s will be a make or break decade for the future of aviation


In July, the Aerospace Technology Institute alongside the UK Government launched an ambitious new program to develop a zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2030, FlyZero. The program aims to make the UK a world leader in trying to achieve zero emission flight, marking a significant milestone for the aerospace industry as well as a great leap towards net-zero by 2050.

Asthe Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) marks this milestone it’s worth taking stock of the wider aerospace industry, especially in light of Covid-19, and consider what it could look like in 2050.


At ATI we did just that with our report ‘”Airspace 2050. Looking at current patterns and trends and consulting with organisations across the aerospace sector and beyond, our report lays out three plausible scenarios of what the industry could look like in 2050.

The scenarios are titled: ‘Good In-tensions’, ‘Techopoly’ and ‘Eco-It-Alone’. Under all three scenarios the world is at risk of failing to reach the Paris Agreement targets:

‘Good In-tensions’ would see the international community coming together to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, there is a failure to get the markets adequately involved and years elapse between those good intentions and action. The result is a world where the skies are busy, but full of historically accumulated greenhouse gases.

‘Techopoly’ is where weak governments and their regulatory regimes compete intensely to attract the latest innovation. Climate change challenges have been left mainly to the markets and technological fixes as clean energy. The result is a society driven by consumerism and convenience.

‘Eco-It-Alone’, would see an ongoing round of global blame and resource-based conflicts which has driven most nation states to go it alone in terms of energy independence and sustainability. International mass tourism and aerospace have suffered, with many in the aerospace sector making the pivot towards other markets where their capabilities can be applied, like energy and defence.

New challenges

All these analyses took place before the Covid-19 pandemic which has served to highlight some of the challenges the aerospace industry may face in the future. While Covid-19 represents by far the greatest disruption to air transport, the aerospace industry is working hard to recover, thrive and achieve the Paris Agreement targets.  But this will require the right decisions to be taken by the Government and the industry itself.

If we are to address the twin challenges of Covid-19 and climate change the government and the aerospace industry must be more ambitious in backing disrupters and new entrants.

FlyZero is an indication of the direction needed. The FlyZero vision will pull together expertise from across the UK supply chain and universities in a new ambitious project to help UK aerospace develop a zero-carbon emission aircraft by 2030 – a project that has never been done before.

However, FlyZero is only the start and it will be for industry and businesses to take on the mantle. Firstly, we must set an ambitious zero-carbon technology agenda that will find innovative applications across the board. While the UK is taking a lead with FlyZero, the industry must drive impact on both global and local levels. Globally we must coordinate to align agendas, while locally we must ensure that advancements benefit communities and that we build strong clusters of innovation activity.

As an industry we need to look beyond our boundaries and not approach the challenge with the mindset of the past – disruption is key. Critically, to be ambitious we must inject pace. Just like we have seen in creating a vaccine to fight Covid-19, we need to prioritise speed while minimising overheads in the process of innovation.

It will take endeavours like this – at speed and at scale – to overcome the challenge that the aerospace industry faces. FlyZero is just the start of a new era which will ensure the UK is at the forefront of the disruptive solutions that are vital for the long-term success of the UK aerospace sector.


James McMicking  is chief strategy officer of the ATI and a member of its executive management team. He is accountable for the ATI’s strategy, providing market and economic insight, programme management and business operations. This broad range of responsibilities involves engaging closely with stakeholders across industry and government to raise the ATI’s profile and its mission of maximising the UK’s impact in aerospace.

Prior to the ATI, James worked in management consulting and the automotive industry as an engineer and programme manager. He holds first class honours in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bath, an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and a Masters in Engineering Management from the McCormick School of Engineering, Northwestern University.


The Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) promotes transformative technology in air transport and funds world-class research and development through a £3.9 billion (US$5 billion) joint government-industry program.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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