Cranfield University and its partners in the £67million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) will today announce the five primary research challenges that the centre will tackle when it opens in early 2020.

Launching the challenges in a white paper, entitled ‘Addressing the digital aviation challenge’, the partnership behind DARTeC will set out how they will aim to unlock the potential of digital aviation for the UK and global aviation industry. 

With the pace of air travel growth already causing strains across the sector and UK passenger numbers expected to increase by 49% by 2050, solutions other than expansion of airport capacity and ground infrastructure need to be found. 

Digital aviation has often been cited as being the next significant business transformation event of the sector and one which can support the industry towards delivering greater customer satisfaction while addressing efficiency, cost and capacity issues. 

However, while many of the challenges of digital aviation are understood individually, there are very few opportunities to address them simultaneously within a collaborative research and technology environment. DARTeC will offer that opportunity by creating a ‘research eco-system’ underpinned by Cranfield’s global research airport and the University’s newly-opened autonomous vehicle research facility.

Funding for DARTeC is being provided by a consortium of leading aerospace and aviation companies including Thales, SAAB, Monarch Aircraft Engineering Limited, Aveillant – as well as Cranfield University. The Centre is also benefiting from £15.5m of funding from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), a scheme led by Research England.

Launching DARTeC’s five research priorities at the Farnborough International Show, Professor Graham Braithwaite, Project Lead and Director of Transport Systems at Cranfield University, said: “Aviation is a key sector for the UK economy contributing £52 billion to UK GDP but the sector’s present rate of growth is simply not sustainable. 

“We need new digital solutions to tackle the challenges of over-capacity in both airports and airspace, we need to create passenger experiences more fitting of the 21st century and we need to create more sustainable air travel. Working with our partners, DARTeC will greatly advance the application of innovative technologies within the air transport sector and will unlock the potential of digital aviation.”

Addressing the digital aviation challenge, DARTeC’s five primary research areas will be:

  • Connected systems – developing digital systems that will operate at speeds that the current Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the Aircraft Condition Monitoring System (ACMS) are not capable of producing.
  • Unmanned traffic management – developing airspace management solutions that will bring higher levels of system resilience, safety and security while adapting to competition from UAVs to operate in the same airspace.
  • Seamless passenger experience – developing a more personalised, intuitive and less stressful passenger experience by using digital integrated technology to examine challenges such as unified security, the elimination of triple waiting areas, optimised passenger flows and baggage separation.
  • Distributed airport and airspace management - developing the next generation of air traffic control in an environment of steadily increasing air traffic density and ‘on-demand’ requests.
  • Conscious aircraft – developing technology and systems that would allow aircraft to monitor its current health, allowing it to reliably predict the useful life of components and systems, while automatically adapting to optimise their remaining life.

Artists Impression: DARTeC
Artist Impression: DARTeC

About Cranfield University

Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Transport Systems at Cranfield

Cranfield has over 50 years’ experience in transport, including the aviation, automotive, motorsport, military and marine sectors.

We are the only university in Europe to own and run an airport and to have airline status.

Our education and award-winning research covers all modes of vehicles and transport across technology, engineering and management, including sustainable transport and intelligent mobility.

In an increasingly interconnected world, we specialise in understanding the whole environment in which transport operates: the vehicles, infrastructure, businesses and logistics, as well as the human aspects of operating, managing and using transport.

Our world-class facilities include high-performance wind tunnels, an off-road vehicle dynamics facility, a crash impact test centre (one of just three FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) approved test centres in the world) and our Accident Investigation Laboratory, which is dedicated to our work in aviation, marine and rail safety and the only accident investigation laboratory of its type outside the United States. We were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for our world-leading work in aviation safety through research and training in air accident investigation in 2011.

Completed in 2017, our latest facility, the Multi-User Environment for Autonomous Vehicle Innovation, is a £19 million ‘smart’ roadway test environment for the development of intelligent and autonomous vehicles, making it a UK first. It includes the associated systems needed to integrate emerging technologies into our day-to-day lives.

A new £65 million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre will also be built at Cranfield to spearhead the UK’s research into digital aviation technology, and a new state-of-the-art digital control tower, which replicates what can be seen through the windows of a traditional air traffic control tower via a live feed using HD cameras and sensors, is being installed at Cranfield Airport.