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Artist's impression of future aircraft types
Credit: UKRI

Led by the University of Birmingham and funded by the Future Flight Challenge at UK Research and Innovation, the programme will be launched today (20 July 2022) at Farnborough Air Show. The research follows on from an initial report into people’s hopes, expectations and concerns about the potential future operations of different technologies, also launched today at the Air Show.

The report, commissioned by UKRI and supported by UKRI’s Sciencewise programme, focused on three particular technologies designed for civilian use: drones, advanced air mobility (‘air taxis’), and regional air mobility (‘eco planes’). It demonstrated that, while participants recognised the potential of these, their support was conditional on further research before public investment in these areas is accelerated.

Public support was also clearly dependent on research incorporating a broader range of public and specialist perspectives. The new programme is therefore designed to give people a real stake – at an early stage – in the future development and regulation of emerging aviation technologies.

These new aviation technologies are just on the horizon and have the potential to radically change aspects of our day-to-day lives, so it is vital that we build a better understanding of their social benefits, impacts, and implications before they are rolled out.

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker, UKRI Future Flight Challenge Social Science Research Director, University of Birmingham

Professor Fern Elsdon-Baker, UKRI Future Flight Challenge Social Science Research Director, at the University of Birmingham said: “These new aviation technologies are just on the horizon and have the potential to radically change aspects of our day-to-day lives, so it is vital that we build a better understanding of their social benefits, impacts, and implications before they are rolled out.

“The public dialogue report released today provides us a valuable steer directly from the UK public as to how they would like to see these technologies employed or operated. The announcement from UKRI of funding to enable further social research and community engagement that draws on this report is very timely and emphasizes the growing, much needed role of public engagement in the development of future research and innovation.”

The research will allow further engagement with communities across the UK to better understand how these technologies can be developed in a way that respond to real social needs, concerns or expectations. Drawing on the public’s views will enable better understanding of how the social benefits of these new technologies might be made accessible to all members of UK society.

Gary Cutts, UKRI Future Flight Challenge Director said “As a challenge we realise that public perceptions, trust and social desirability are pivotal to the uptake, roll out and ultimately the success of future flight technologies.

“We know these new technologies have huge potential to benefit people across the UK and change our day-to-day lives, but there are significant hurdles to overcome. This report helps us start to understand the complex public, community and stakeholder attitudes, concerns or expectations that will inform society’s thinking about future flight.

“The additional funding we’ve contributed will help us better understand how these technologies can be developed in a way that respond to real social needs, concerns or expectations.”