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Audit proves potential for aviation-driven economic growth


Heathrow Airport, West London and the Thames Valley’s potential to drive UK economic growth and productivity is explored in a report issued today by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – with potential application to the fast-growing global aviation industry. 

Spearheaded by Brunel University London, ‘Innovation for Sustainable Airports’ brings together the thinking from a consortium of commercial and research partners about how to capitalise on Heathrow, businesses that service it, and other strong sectors in the area. 

“Heathrow, the jewel at the centre of the world’s second-largest aviation market, is an ‘anchor business’ for 400 businesses that come together to operate the airport and its supply chains,” said Professor Geoff Rodgers, Brunel’s Vice-Provost for Research, who led the study.  

“A sustainable airport is one which increases social and economic growth while reducing its environmental impact, and our aim as a consortium is to create a world-leading research and innovation ecosystem that’s focused on the needs of sustainable airport development and operation.” 

The report is part of a wave of 12 Science and Innovation Audits sponsored by BEIS and issued by its Secretary of State, Greg Clark MP. It focuses on four themes – sustainable construction, big data and cyber security, operational excellence, plus intelligent mobility – and identifies several strategic opportunities: 

  • establishing a Research/Innovation Centre addressing future sustainable airport challenges 

  • developing collaborative incubation and innovation facilities close to Heathrow 

  • supporting and developing the provision of higher apprenticeships and graduates in areas of skills shortage, such as big data, cyber and construction 

  • establishing a formal Research Cluster on Sustainable Airport Construction & Maintenance 

  • developing open models for data analytics beneficial to sustainable airports 

  • developing Cyber Security for Sustainable Airports 

  • developing best practice in the development of smart, sustainable, scalable supply chains 

  • creating a ‘living lab’ to explore multi-modal mobility solutions for sustainable airports. 

What works well for Heathrow will be attractive to many of the 42,000 airports worldwide, and to a global aviation industry anticipating a doubling in the number of air passengers by 2035 – providing growth opportunities for UK industry. 

Universities and Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “We are world-leaders across a range of science and research disciplines, and the SIAs published today show the whole nation contributes to that reputation.

“From boosting our cyber security strengths in Worcestershire to improving the sustainability of airports led by Brunel University London, we have much to be proud about and we are committed to building on these strengths and others in our modern Industrial Strategy through the largest increase in science funding in a generation.”

Rob Gray, Heathrow’s Director of Community and Stakeholder Relations, said: “Heathrow has been delighted to participate in the Science and Innovation Audit on Sustainable Airports. The wide range of themes covered under this banner – from sustainable construction to intelligent mobility – are all vital to our shared economic prosperity, and they present many opportunities for growth and innovation.  

“Effective collaboration is the core ingredient for success, and we hope the SIA will help to build more momentum by bringing together ideas and perspectives from all sectors and a diverse group of partner organisations.” 

The consortium brings together as initial partners Brunel and Heathrow; Royal Holloway, University of London; the Thames Valley Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnerships; plus the BRE Trust, Conigital, ICAV, IceBlue, Morgan Sindall, Segro, Smart Specialisation Hub and West London Business. 


The study area

'Innovation for Sustainable Airports' is available in full and as a summary report.

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268821