New UK green aircraft business formed to accelerate transition to zero-emissions flight

Cranfield Aeropsace Solutions and Britten-Norman signal intention to merge to create hydrogen aircraft

New UK green aircraft business formed to accelerate transition to zero-emissions flight

  • Cranfield Aerospace Solutions and Britten-Norman to merge
  • Creation of a UK based global leader in green flight
  • Up to £10m new investment from existing CAeS shareholders

In an industry first, Britten-Norman, manufacturers of the iconic Islander aircraft, and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS), pioneers in hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion technology, have signed a Heads of Terms agreement, signaling their intention to merge and to create the world’s first fully integrated, zero-emissions sub regional aircraft for entry into service in 2026.

The merger is due to complete in mid-2023, subject to final due diligence. In a funding round led by HydrogenOne Capital Growth Plc (“HydrogenOne”), a consortium of CAeS investors comprising HydrogenOne, Safran Corporate Ventures (the corporate venture arm of Safran, a leading aerospace company),  and the UAE-based investment firm Strategic Development Fund (SDF) will invest up to £10 million in the new company, including up to £5 million investment from HydrogenOne once the merger is finalised. Cranfield University and Motus Ventures will continue to retain shares in the new business. Britten-Norman’s existing owners, including lead investor Alawi Zawawi, will also join the new business. The investment will anchor further funding that is currently being raised to support the growth of the merged entity.

The new entity is responding to the growing demand from airlines and operators for an OEM-backed aircraft that will enable their move to zero-emissions operations. By combining CAeS’s pioneering development of a hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion system with the existing and proven Britten-Norman aircraft technology, a clear and unambiguous route to market has been created with certification for passenger-carrying service planned for 2026.

The Britten-Norman Islander, a nine-seat regional aircraft widely used by operators around the world for inter-island services and short hop operations is in high demand for its proven ability to operate from smaller airports and short airstrips in all weather conditions, often providing vital lifelines for remote communities.

The company’s ambition extends beyond the Islander and the sub-regional market, with the intention to design and manufacture new ‘clean sheet’ aircraft up to 100 seats powered using zero carbon technology.

Commenting, Paul Hutton, Cranfield Aerospace Chief Executive, said:

“This deal accelerates our roadmap for the introduction of new zero-emissions aircraft. As other sectors decarbonise quickly, it is imperative that the aviation industry accelerates its own transition to new, clean aircraft. Looking to the future we will use the combined experience of Cranfield Aerospace and Britten-Norman to produce an entirely new aircraft design, optimised around hydrogen fuel cell technology”.

William Hynett, Chief Executive of Britten-Norman added:

“The merging of Britten-Norman and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions will create a new market leader in green aircraft manufacturing, bringing together joint strengths in aerospace manufacturing, certification and innovation. The investment will give a huge boost to UK aviation exports and will deliver the first Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) sub-regional aircraft powered by Hydrogen. This merger will create many new high tech and manufacturing roles across the new business and a host of opportunities for apprenticeships and graduate placements in the sustainable aerospace sector.” 

The two companies have been collaborating on Project Fresson for over 2 years, a project set up to develop the technologies required to enable the hydrogen propulsion system for the Islander. The project has been backed by the UK Government, via the UK Aerospace Technology Institute, and has secured over £14 million in private funding from global investors.


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Notes to editors:

Air travel currently accounts for 2.5% of global emissions and is projected to grow alongside increased aviation use. It is forecasted that aviation will be responsible for 39% of total carbon emissions by 2050 in the UK alone*

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of CO2 – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecasts that by 2050 international aviation emissions could triple compared with 2015 if no action is taken. As other sectors decarbonise, aviation could be one of the most polluting sectors worldwide by 2050.

The combined entity will incorporate 7 sites in London, Cranfield, Gosport, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Miami and Malta and will employ circa 220 people.

About Cranfield Aerospace Solutions:

CAeS is a UK-based aviation pioneer which, via Project Fresson, is developing a world-leading hydrogen propulsion system for the Britten Norman Islander, with the aim to deliver the world’s first, zero-emissions, regulatory certified passenger aircraft solution by 2026. The company’s ultimate goal is to become an airframer of low and zero carbon sub-regional and regional aircraft and to play a critical role in the decarbonisation of the aviation industry.

CAeS was created out of Cranfield University and has been operating as a commercial entity at the cutting edge of aircraft development for over 30 years, having been trusted by global aerospace OEMs, including Rolls Royce, Airbus, Boeing as well as NASA to undertake complex R&D projects which have included aircraft design, modification and assembly.

About Britten-Norman:

Britten-Norman is a world-leading sub-regional aircraft manufacturer specialising in twin-engine piston and turboprop STOL aircraft. The company is a UK-based SME, exporting 97% of circa 1,300 aircraft manufactured to date. In addition to manufacturing the world-famous Islander aircraft and supporting its customers globally, Britten-Norman is a leader and innovator in the green “space race”, future-proofing air transport. A test and trials specialist, Britten-Norman’s research and development teams collaborate with pioneering technology innovators across all industries to help bring new technologies to market.

*Our World in Data, ‘Climate change and flying: what share of global CO2 emissions come from aviation?’, October 2020.

Aerospace Technology Institute, ‘The Case for the UK to Accelerate Zero-Carbon Emission Air Travel’, March 2022.