The UK's Aerial Uptake Action Plan for the Lancashire region aims to build upon existing regional strengths and provide the UK with a world-class innovation cluster for the development, testing and manufacture of civil Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

The interregional learning through the Interreg Europe Aerial Uptake project has allowed us to evaluate our own strengths, opportunities and weaknesses in this space and has greatly informed the development of this vision for a Lancashire cluster plan and this Action Plan for Lancashire.

The UK's Aerial Uptake Action Plan concentrated on three areas.

• Action 1: Establish a refocussed Steering Group to support cluster development. Firstly, a refocused steering group was to be created to continue driving forward regional interventions and priorities. Policy: Funding options are being investigated from emerging funding streams and strategies.

• Action 2 : Increase the number of businesses in the region bringing new drone technologies and services to market The second action was to support local companies who are developing drones and drone related technology and help them to accelerate their product development activities. Policy: The region has already secured a policy change with investment of €1.3m for this project which has facilitated the Lancashire Innovation Drone Zone (LIDZ).

• Action 3: Increase Lancashire Local Authorities’ use of drone technologies (both existing and emerging). Finally, there was to be a collaboration between academia and local authorities to investigate how drone technology could improve asset inspection activities to save public funds, reduce risk to personnel and speed up maintenance activities. Policy: The region has already secured a policy change with investment of €1.5m for this project.

Action 1: What has been happening in Lancashire

Key stakeholders from local industry, local authorities, and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have established a working group to drive forward creation of an industrial cluster in the region focused upon supporting emerging aviation markets, including unmanned systems. The concept is to provide business incubation, and to provide access for smaller companies and start-ups to networking, research and development, engineering, and advanced testing facilities that would otherwise be inaccessible. Plans are maturing and funding options are being developed.

Action 2: Helping businesses across the region

UCLan has expanded their aerospace and sensors research team to provide specialised support to the local SME community. Working intensively from August 2021, UCLan has completed over ten projects supporting SMEs and is currently working on over twelve more projects, with targets to provide up to eighty business assists by June 2023.

Activities have involved supporting companies with the first flights of new aircraft, right through to business case studies and software development activities. The university is offering support in the form of initial consultancy, long term collaborations with industry, and support helping firms take new to firm, and new to market products through to commercialisation.

Action 3: A bridge to new technology

In support of the third action plan point, UCLan has created a project with Lancashire County Council (the upper-tier local authority for the county of Lancashire) to investigate how drones and drone sensors can be integrated in estate and asset inspections. Initial investigations are concentrating on using drones for surveying the structural integrity of the many bridges across Lancashire, UK. Some new and novel concepts for using drones beyond visual inspections are emerging, and the performance of these new drone systems are a being evaluated to quantify the benefits to the local authority.

Watch this space for a future update!