Work underway on centre for future of digital aviation

A groundbreaking ceremony today took place at the site of the new £67 million Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) to be built at Cranfield University. The Centre is being funded by a consortium of leading aerospace and aviation companies including Saab.

The ceremony, which marks the official start of construction for the Centre and coincides with British Science Week, was attended by Chris Skidmore MP, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

The Centre will spearhead the UK’s research into digital aviation technology, investigating challenges facing the aviation industry such as:

  • The integration of drones into civilian airspace
  • Increasing the efficiency of airports through technological advances
  • Creating safe, secure shared airspace through secure data communication infrastructures
  • Increasing the reliability and availability of aircraft through self-sensing, self-aware technologies.

Science and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The UK has a rich heritage in aviation and has always been at the cutting edge of aeronautical research and manufacturing. The future of air travel will be cleaner, greener and more efficient and the new Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre will ensure the UK remains at the forefront of pioneering the next generation of flight, from new self-sensing technology to electrifying air travel.

“In our Aero Sector Deal we have set out our plans alongside industry to lead the world in electric aviation, boosting UK exports and create the high-quality jobs of tomorrow as part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

Professor Helen Atkinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, said: “DARTeC will be part of Cranfield’s global research airport and provide the opportunity to advance the application of digital technologies in the air transport sector through partnership and collaboration. Digital technology will allow us to deliver greater efficiency and enhanced safety for aircraft and its passengers.” 

Andrew Walton, Head of Saab UK, said: “Our commitment to innovation and delivering leading-edge technologies across the civil and military domains sits at the very heart of Saab. We commit 23 percent of our annual turnover towards research and development and our involvement with DARTeC evidences our ongoing work here in the UK.”

The Centre is scheduled to open in autumn 2020. Research areas will include a covered hangar laboratory with a 737-400 aircraft and next-generation technologies such a Holographic Radar System capable of monitoring and controlling airspace around Cranfield’s own airport.

In December 2018, the first operational digital tower in the United Kingdom was inaugurated by Cranfield University at its Bedfordshire airport with a system from Saab Digital Air Traffic Solutions, creating a unique research and development environment.