The University of Waterloo Institute is the first in Canada to conduct research in sustainable aeronautics
WATERLOO – Growing up in Wiarton on the Bruce Peninsula, Suzanne Kearns loved watching small planes fly over her home, and by age 15, she was taking flying lessons.
But as a professor teaching an aviation course at the University of Waterloo, she was taken aback a few years ago when a student said he was faced with questions about working in a field considered a big problem for the health of the planet.
“Aviation is responsible for around 2% of global emissions. There is work to be done, ”she said. “But aviation is also a force for good – when you think of moving people around the planet, delivering vaccines, getting essential supplies across northern Canada.
“But it has to be done in a sustainable way.”
Kearns was speaking at the Tuesday launch of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics, a new University of Waterloo institute that hopes to shape the future of aeronautics at a key time for the industry and the global climate.
The institute – the first of its kind in Canada – will study how to make aviation more sustainable in several ways – environmental, by seeking ways to reduce the impact of aviation on the planet; but also economically, in an industry which has always had tight profit margins and which faces labor shortages; and socially, by attracting more women and people of color to aviation jobs.
Research topics will attract experts from many disciplines and could range from electric planes and remotely piloted aircraft to improved aerodynamics that reduce fuel consumption, using applied mathematics to optimize routes, flight physiology and the use of clean fuels such as hydrogen which only produce water vapor after combustion.
Other less obvious areas for sustainability could include finding ways to make airport operations more efficient, or to change the way pilots are trained and licensed.
The traditional pilot license is based on hours flown, Kearns noted. “But everyone knows that it’s not the time itself that impacts a person’s learning, it’s what happens during that hour,” Kearns said.
A team at the university tries to refine the skills needed to achieve competence. More efficient training with simulators could reduce fuel consumption during training flights, reduce noise impacts, make training less expensive for students and flight schools, and tailor training to specific student needs. , Kearns said.
The institute will combine the work of 50 researchers from each of the university’s faculties and forge partnerships with business and industry to find ways to innovate in the crucial air transport sector.
There are several benefits for the industry to partnering with the institute, said Thomas Lagaillarde of NAVBLUE, an Airbus subsidiary: it exposes the complex issues facing the aviation industry from bright young students who bring a new perspective; it helps attract new talent to the industry; and it keeps the industry abreast of rapidly changing new technologies.
The institute will study ways to move people through the air, said astronaut Chris Hadfield, who sits on the institute’s advisory board. “There are much more effective ways to do this, some that we have thought about that we haven’t developed, others that we haven’t even thought of yet. … But it must also be weighed in proportion: how does it affect the quality of life, how does it affect the quality of all life?