Last week the Aerospace All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Chris Matheson MP, were welcomed to the world renowned Cranfield University, by Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor, Sir Peter Gregson.  The visit aimed to understand more about the university and how it works with government and industry to support the continued growth of the aerospace sector.

Often described as the “UK’s best kept secret”, Cranfield University is the only university in Europe which has an airport, runway, air navigation service provider, as well as a Boeing 737-400 ground based demonstrator.  It also has an extensive, world-class research and development capability. Cranfield University has 4,500 post-graduate students and around 10,000 students attending their professional development courses, most of which are from industry.

The tour of Cranfield’s extensive facilities included their £35m Aerospace Integration Research Centre (AIRC) facility, jointly funded by Cranfield, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Rolls Royce and Airbus.  It is a unique research facility for integration of complex aerospace solutions, and encourages collaboration between academia and industry.  The group were keen to acknowledge that Cranfield and its capabilities is something to be celebrated within the sector.

Professor Iain Gray, Director of Aerospace at Cranfield University, highlighted the need for collaboration between government departments such as Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, who are leading the UK’s Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Transport, who are looking at the future regulations of autonomous travel.  He urged for a joined up approach, as the Aerospace Industry consists not only of the aircraft, but also airports, airspace and airlines.

Discussions throughout the day were focused around the Aerospace Sector Deal and the Grand Challenges, more specifically the Brunel challenge.  The Brunel challenge focuses on High Value Design which is seen as the key to developing advanced skills and expertise.  Professor Gray highlighted that although High Value Manufacturing is generally well understood by government, High Value Design requires greater focus.  The two are closely linked and without investment in High Value Design, High Value Manufacturing opportunities will decline in the future.  The skills, technology and processes that come from High Value Design need to be recognised by government, to ensure sovereign capability will not be lost and that the UK remains a key partner in the future.

The group discussed the importance of STEM careers and attracting young people into the industry.  Sir Peter Gregson, Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chancellor at Cranfield, highlighted that it was academia, industry and governments shared responsibility to promote STEM, and the involvement in campaigns such as ‘This is Engineering’ and ‘Year of Engineer’ is key to ensuring that we have a strong and highly skilled workforce in the future to develop new and innovative new ideas in the future.

The visit was an opportunity for the group to see first-hand the positive contribution that academia and industry provides to our country through this vibrant and growing sector.