Orkney to become low-carbon aviation test centre

A pioneering £3.7 million green aviation project that will see a range of innovative low-carbon aircraft put through their paces in Orkney is set to take off later this year.

The Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) initiative is being led by Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) and part funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

During the 18-month long project HIAL’s Kirkwall Airport will become the UK’s first operationally-based low-carbon aviation test centre, reflecting Orkney’s global status as a living laboratory for renewables research and development.

Aircraft powered by electricity, hydrogen or Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) will be trialled in the islands, with additional tests done on the use of drones to supply medical supplies to health centres.

Kirkwall Airport was deemed the ideal test location due to the variety of short routes it offers as a hub connecting Orkney’s island communities.

Part of UKRI’s Future Flight Challenge supporting the development of greener ways to fly, the SATE project brings together a consortium of aviation industry specialists, along with Orkney and Caithness businesses, public sector bodies and academia.

SATE’s technology partners - Ampaire, ZeroAvia, Loganair, Windracers and Flarebright - are behind the host of exciting new transport options set to be trialled in Orkney.

The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Denchi Group, Orkney-based Cloudnet, Air Service Training, University of the Highlands and Islands, The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and Orkney Islands Council complete the partnership.

Project organisers say the SATE project will address the challenges of improving UK regional air connectivity and help decarbonise the Highlands and Islands region, while stimulating job creation. It will also use local renewable energy, supporting Orkney’s net zero ambitions.

In addition, consortium members will look at how to implement zero-carbon airport infrastructure using green energy sources, as well as digital networking and the development of resilient communications. The socio-economic impact of new technologies and services in the region, and the skills and training needed to support them, will also be assessed.

HIAL managing director Inglis Lyon, said: “Project SATE will place the Highlands and Islands at the vanguard of the adoption of next-generation aircraft and spearhead the aviation industry's response to climate change.

“The project will identify the necessary supply chain and people skills to support the development and testing of the new technologies, with the aim of developing a Highlands and Islands sustainable aviation sector, stimulating inward investment and local supply chain opportunities.

“It will also measure local community appetite for the new aircraft technology, especially on lifeline regional routes, and the potential impact on the regional economy from the adoption of these new technologies.”

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said: “This is a very exciting project and it’s fantastic to see Highland and Islands Airports Ltd take the lead to create the UK's first low-carbon aviation test environment.

This test centre has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront of the transition to low carbon aviation and is an important step towards delivering our commitment to decarbonise scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040.

Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge director, added: “At this challenging time for the international aviation industry, it is a great testament to the UK’s drive and ambition that we had such a strong response to the first funded Future Flight competition.

“The breadth, quality and creativity of the bids has been exceptional and the economic and social benefits offered are significant.”

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