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Adapting Horizons: The Evolving Aircraft Landscape in the Aerospace & Defence (A&D) Sector

12th Sep 2023

As we step into the autumn months, statistical data is now revealing the thriving sectors within the market during the first half of 2023. Significantly, the aerospace & defence industry (A&D) has experienced immense prosperity, specifically within the field of aircraft. According to ADS – the trade association representing A&D, security, and space organisations – there has been an extraordinary 129% influx in international aircraft orders in H1 2023 compared to figures from 2022 [1]. In this article, we probe further and uncover the trends and progressions revolutionising how A&D utilise aircraft.



Investigating the Surge in Demand

This spike in global orders is nothing short of remarkable. But what is it that is fuelling growth? In the following sections, we reveal the dynamics responsible for this prominent uptick.

Driving Investments

An array of innovations, ranging from more fuel-efficient engines to pioneering avionics, are orchestrating the profound transformation of A&D. This impressive movement is thanks to the dedicated and attentive research and development (R&D) labs that are tirelessly expanding the horizons of what’s achievable.


A recent report from Bain & Company, a US-based management consulting firm, indicates that the majority of A&D executives have strategic plans to bolster their engineering and R&D budgets in the coming three years [2]. This commitment aligns with the skyrocketing expectations of aircraft producers, who foresee a substantial boom in production [2].


Green Practices

Similar to other businesses, the A&D sector has recognised the imperative to decarbonise and has independently committed to reaching eco objectives. Notably, giants such as Airbus and Boeing, alongside aviation associations, have reached a consensus on ambitious targets of achieving zero net emissions by the year 2050 [2]. Concurrently, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) disclosed its sustainability blueprint in 2022 [2]. Meanwhile, here in the UK, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has faced criticism from the Parliament’s Defence Committee for not fully maximising efforts to measure and mitigate emissions while maintaining military capabilities [3].

Technological & Design Breakthroughs

plane,flight,bomber,b-2,aircraft,air force,aviation,defense,airplane,stealth,military,aerospace,airforceThe nexus of technology and design intertwines seamlessly with sustainability, offering a promising avenue to reduce operational emissions and enhance efficiency. 

To put this into perspective, advancements in aircraft design and propulsion have the potential to decrease flight emissions by an estimated 21% [4]

For instance, the traditional tube-and-wing aircraft design is giving way to a novel aeronautical configuration known as a blended wing-body (BWB). Following in the footsteps of the military plane, the B-2 Spirit bomber and collaborative undertakings involving Boeing Phantom Works, NASA, and the Air Force Research Laboratory to explore the structural, aerodynamic, and functional advantages of the BWB concept [5], numerous aeronautics firms are exploring the concept of these aircraft. While Boeing and Airbus are among those considering it, California-based JetZero is striving to have a BWB aircraft in service by 2030 [6].

Creative Concepts

plane,booking,data,iot,connection,communication,airport,flightGroundbreaking initiatives such as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) are poised to revolutionise transportation by enhancing sustainability, alleviating urban congestion, and curbing carbon emissions [4].

In 2021, NASA unveiled its own vision for its AAM mission, envisioning a future where passengers and cargo can travel on-demand using innovative automated aircraft, such as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles, connecting not only within urban areas but also bridging neighbouring cities and destinations typically accessed by road [7].

Beyond leisure travel, AAM presents vast prospects, including its potential role in emergency response scenarios and the transportation of medical resources [8].

What’s being hailed as the ‘future of airspace’, NASA’s AAM endeavour goes further than automation, incorporating software that facilitates airspace communication, flight path management, and collision avoidance while also prioritising noise reduction – the agency is actively developing tools to assist AAM manufacturers in crafting quieter and less disruptive aircraft [8].

Automation & Robotics

antenna,plane,rocket,aviation,autonomous,robot,jet,military,unmanned,drone,flight,remote operation,smart,vehicle,weapon,modern,defense,attackOf course, similar to various other industries, the Aerospace & Defence sector is pushing the boundaries of automation in the realm of aviation. As previously discussed, NASA’s AAM initiative encompasses automated aircraft, but there are also possibilities for airborne automation within the broader U.S. defence field. In February, headlines reported that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) had granted a contract to Reliable Robotics for the exploration of large-scale automation in multi-engine jets [9].

Later in July, reports indicated that Reliable Robotics had obtained approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to advance its agenda of testing and certifying fully automated aircraft systems. Robert Rose, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Reliable Robotics, expressed his business’ intention to licence its autonomous flight system to other entities. He mentioned: “We anticipate that it will take approximately three to four years before we can effectively operate these aircraft remotely at a significant scale [10].”

Demand & Supply Challenges

While demand is soaring and breakthroughs are occurring, the industry is not without its obstacles. Supply chain disruptions, propelled by factors like the pandemic and world affair tensions, are causing setbacks and impacting production.

Fortunately, over the past five years, here at Knight Optical, we have continuously provided our services and adapted swiftly to navigate economic and geopolitical issues, all in the best interest of our customers.

Knight Optical's Metrology Laboratory, Quality assurance, QA, Optics testingManaging a frequently intricate network of suppliers and subcontractors is essential in aerospace manufacturing, where upholding the quality and certification of components and materials takes top priority. 

At Knight Optical, we place a strong emphasis on transparency in our offerings and consistently strive to meet the most rigorous criteria. Moreover, recognising the often frustrating delays associated with long lead times for parts, we provide versatile solutions with a catalogue of over 3000 readily available stock optics, which can be dispatched the next day. Additionally, for specialised projects, we also offer tailor-made optical components to meet more specific requirements.

Knight Optical in Aerospace & Defence

With a history spanning over three decades in serving the A&D sector and our steadfast affiliation with ADS, alongside our unwavering commitment to strict military standards (notably MIL-STD), we maintain a vigilant watch over developments in the aircraft industry. 

Knight Optical's full range of optical componentsIn the ever-changing landscape of the A&D sector, one thing remains certain: the journey of innovation and progress is far from over. As we look ahead, the aircraft industry stands at the forefront of transformative change, driven by a devotion to excellence and environmental responsibility. It is a territory where goals of performance and cutting-edge tech continue to soar, assuring a future where the skies are limitless. 

In this dynamic environment and with our rich background and dedication to stringent regulations, we play a pivotal role in enabling these visionary aspirations to take flight. As the domain adapts to cope with fresh dilemmas and seize new opportunities, we remain a dependable optical component partner, ready to illuminate the path forward with clarity and precision.