SME Member Spotlight | Britten-Norman

  • techUK techUK
    Wednesday12Aug 2020

    techUK catches up William Hynett, CEO of Britten-Norman, discussing challenges for SME's in the defence sector, the signficance of R&D and what the future holds

Who are Britten-Norman?

Britten-Norman is the UK’s only sovereign commercial aircraft manufacturer. Our aircraft have been employed by the UK Armed Forces and other UK Government agencies for ISTAR missions for over 30 years, including in the UK, Former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We believe we encapsulate British design at its best. Britten-Norman aircraft are easily reconfigurable, simple to maintain and economical to run. Cabins are modular and can be changed quickly according to need – including mission set ups ranging from cargo to counter-insurgency, search & rescue to medevac. 

Other features make our aircraft unique. Exceptional low-speed handling means our aircraft can almost hang in the air, going about as fast as a car on the motorway. Britten-Norman aircraft are also famous for being able to land and take off almost anywhere including sandy beaches, jungle clearings, farmer’s fields – even a reasonable sized garden! 

What market challenges do you face being an SME in the defence sector?

The UK Government is an important customer for Britten-Norman, one we are incredibly proud to serve. However, we have found the structure of Ministry of Defence (MoD) procurement is too often a blunt tool and one that excludes businesses who could give the MoD excellent service and value for money if they were given a chance. 

The UK’s defence sector is a key contributor to the economy and to national security. Without strategic procurement we risk the UK’s defence industrial capabilities declining irrevocably. Contracting with UK businesses ensures long-term investment in jobs, skills and UK intellectual property as well as providing greater tax contributions. Britten-Norman has urged the MoD to formally recognise these benefits and factor them into procurement decisions.  

Why does Britten-Norman place such a significance on R&D?

The original Britten-Norman story is one steeped in innovation. In the 1950s the company was involved in modifying De Havilland aircraft to operate in Africa for agriculture and locust control. Over the past 65 years the company has continued to innovate, being involved in a variety of projects from developing spray technology to designing and building hovercraft right through to designing and productionising its very own commercial aircraft – the world-renowned Islander.

Since developing its military market product line, the Defender, the company has more recently moved into related markets involving integrating the latest technology into its own products. In cooperation with SMEs in the UK and USA, the company is now engaging in helping to pioneer exciting programmes such as electric powered commercial aircraft and autonomous flight operations for the civil and defence sectors.

Britten-Norman is also a partner in a project aiming to develop a sub-regional air transportation network that is zero carbon and scalable. Our aim is for entry into service by 2025. 

Recently we have also partnered with a start-up creating UAVs capable of carrying heavy loads across long distances in Africa – innovation close to the very first roots of Britten-Norman’s own development. We aim to bring our expertise to help with both the design and the manufacturing of these prototypes. 

What opportunities and challenges do you see for BN in the coming months?

Britten-Norman is interested to read the outcome of the Integrated Review of Foreign Policy, Defence, Security and International Development when it is published. We hope the Integrated Review will explore the importance of sustaining and growing the UK’s sovereign defence capabilities. 

Recently we submitted oral and written evidence to the Defence Select Committee’s Procurement and Prosperity Inquiry. We look forward to reading their upcoming report. 

In the regulatory space we see significant challenges in the regulatory framework that will follow the UK’s exit from the European Union and its associated bodies. Britten-Norman has worked hard to plan its own mitigation for the difficulties that are likely to be encountered during transition and has helped to provide advice to regulators and third parties about some of the practicalities involved. As a company that has extensive operational expertise cooperating with businesses in Eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War, Britten-Norman is well placed to support other businesses facing similar challenges. 


  • Fraser Willcox

    Fraser Willcox

    Member Relations Manager
    T 020 7331 2057

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