The companies have signed a Heads of Terms agreement and the merger is due to complete in mid-2023, subject to final due diligence.
A consortium of CAeS investors comprising HydrogenOne, Safran Corporate Ventures and investment firm Strategic Development Fund (SDF) will invest up to £10m in the new company, including up to £5m investment from HydrogenOne once the merger is finalised.
Cranfield University and Motus Ventures will retain shares in the new business. Britten-Norman's current owners will also join the new business.
The combined entity will incorporate seven sites in London, Cranfield, Gosport, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Miami and Malta and will employ around 220 people.
“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,” said William Hynett, chief executive of Britten-Norman. “The investment will give a huge boost to UK aviation exports and will deliver the first OEM sub-regional aircraft powered by hydrogen.”
Britten-Norman is a sub-regional aircraft manufacturer specialising in twin-engine piston and turboprop STOL aircraft. The company’s Islander, a nine-seat regional aircraft widely used for inter-island services and short hop flights, is said to be in high demand for its ability to operate from smaller airports and short airstrips in all weather conditions.
By combining CAeS’s development of a hydrogen-electric fuel cell propulsion system with the existing Britten-Norman aircraft technology, the companies believe ‘a clear and unambiguous route to market’ has been created with certification for passenger services planned for 2026.
The company’s ambition extends beyond the Islander and the sub-regional market, with the intention to design and manufacture new aircraft with up to 100 seats powered with zero carbon technology.
“As other sectors decarbonise quickly, it is imperative that the aviation industry accelerates its own transition to new, clean aircraft,” said Paul Hutton, Cranfield Aerospace chief executive. “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”.
The two companies have been collaborating on Project Fresson for over two 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’s Aerospace Technology Institute and has secured over £14m in private funding from global investors.