Heathrow Launches Zero Carbon Aviation Research Project

Bio aeroplane

Following a recent announcement, the airport has put together two innovative and progressive ideas to propel the airport and aviation forward. The research will begin on two new concepts that aim to reduce emissions while cutting costs and improving the airport’s efficiency.

The project is known as ‘The Future Flight Challenge’ and is funded to the tune of £125 million through government grants. The challenge has three long-term objectives; the most urgent is reducing aviation emissions, followed by safeguarding the UK’s development and research advantage and future-proofing the much-needed economic opportunities from new forms of air mobility and associated commerce.

With a post-pandemic light at the end of the tunnel, airlines and travel companies are beginning to feel a renewed sense of optimism in the air.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is optimistic that travel for pleasure will resume in time for summer 2021. The statement and the news of government-funded studies boost recovery chances to what is a complicated global situation.

The projects that have been green-lighted for research by Heathrow are called NAPKIN and Fly2Plan.

NAPKIN and Fly2Plan

New Aviation Propulsion Knowledge or NAPKIN will help develop the blueprint for zero carbon aviation across the UK. Although the idea of carbon-neutral airports is not a new one, the airport hopes that pursuing these ideas further – and with a particular focus on domestic connectivity – they may cement the UK’s position as a sustainable aviation champion.

The Fly2Plan uses new technologies to manage data efficiently, such as cloud infrastructure and blockchain databases. The project is a change mechanism that will allow savings to be made and new concepts to be put in place, such as using drones more efficiently. It will create a decentralised and resilient operation model that can be rolled out to maximise the UK airspace.

Research has begun at Heathrow, and the outcomes are not expected to be released until early 2022. Following the study, a live trial will demonstrate the concepts with the aim of having these initiatives adopted through the aviation industry soon after.

Heathrow is working with several informed groups across many sectors to balance the challenge a project like this brings to the table. Consultants are:

  • Oxford University
  • King’s College London
  • Cranfield University
  • NATS (UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services)
  • University of Southampton
  • Deloitte
  • IBS software
  • SITA (multinational information technology company providing IT and telecommunication services to the air transport industry)
  • London City Airport
  • the Highlands and Islands Airports

The ambitious project is an investment in Heathrow’s future and a blueprint for carbon-neutral regional air travel throughout the UK. It will likely be used as a marker across the global aviation industry. By engaging in the government-funded research, the UK will demonstrate a commitment to building back a greener, more environmentally led post-pandemic return to business while demonstrating strong leadership in the global aviation revolution that is long overdue.

But what does this mean in practice?

Electric Air Taxis

Air taxis could be a viable form of green transport. A consortium led by Atkins – SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business is a respected project management consultancies that specialise in airport and related aviation design engineering.

Part funding has been secured through the government’s Future of Flight Challenge that will see this £2.5 million project find new and innovative ways to travel, increase mobility, improve connectivity and reduce congestion while encompassing a greener ideology.

The air taxi project is expected to yield results in 18 months and includes an assessment into demand for this type’s service and its impact on the broader transport network in the South West of the UK. If agreed, Vertical Aerospace, an electric aircraft manufacturer based in Bristol, will be part of the project. Skyports, the industry infrastructure provider, will support the AAM industry (advanced air mobility).

The outcome will establish whether the business model is viable and seek to understand the public’s perception of electric air taxies or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOL). The project will culminate in several full-system demonstrations across the south-west of the UK.

Sustainable Fuel

Sustainable fuel has not been specially mentioned in the Future Flight Challenge program. Still, the reality is that there will be no way of achieving a carbon-neutral footprint without sustainable fuel.

In the US, JetBlue Airways was the first to receive an Airbus A321 loaded with 18% sustainable jet fuel; the technology has been available since 2014 and championed by Airbus, the first to be awarded a certification ISO14001 for sustainability across all its services.


It could also affect the future of E-commerce. It is suggested that E-commerce will be supported by using autonomous drones supporting and promoting the ambitions within the carbon-neutral vision while acknowledging the aviation and logistics industry’s issues as a whole.

While the vision of air taxies and logistical drones may seem far fetched, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Part of the broader commitment to a greener, more sustainable aviation industry, all while delivering on the industry’s promise to build back a better and more efficient future for everyone involved.