Taskforce aims to develop aviation talent pipelines

Posted on 10 April, 2024 by Advance 

A new working group of industry and university partners is addressing the challenges around how to build the talent pipelines needed for a future of sustainable aviation.

Above: The Cranfield University campus.
Courtesy Cranfield University

The workshop on Workforce Sustainability and Skills Shortages was the first event of the Global Sustainable Aviation Exchange (GSAE), a movement initiated by Cranfield University in partnership with the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), University of Waterloo in Canada and Khalifa University in the UAE.

Other GSAE supporters include Airbus, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, ICAO, IATA, WTTC, CSIRO, and the universities of Cambridge, Griffiths, Hasselt and, and MIT. GSAE aims to address the key challenges facing the aviation industry in meeting its 2050 targets on climate change and biodiversity, with a focus on delivery and scale-up this decade (by 2030).

The event, led and hosted by the University of Waterloo in February 2024, focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the aviation sector around recruitment, education and retention – particularly around the need to compete against other industries for increasingly important digital skills, such as those in data analytics, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.

“There is a dire need to attract more people into aviation,” said Dr Suzanne Kearns, Director of the Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Aeronautics. “Estimates suggest that over the next 10 years we’ll need 300,000 more pilots, 300,000 more maintenance engineers and 600,000 more cabin crew. We need to be sharing the story of how aviation is a force for good in the world – how the sector is transforming itself with new sustainable technologies, and how younger generations can play a big part in that revolutionary change.”

Discussions highlighted innovations in training – such as the use of virtual reality and bio-sensors for eye-tracking and heart rate monitoring – and the importance of making use of human/machine co-operation to improve operational efficiencies and support sustainability.

Professor Graham Braithwaite, Director of Transport Systems at Cranfield University, said: “We need people with the skills to deliver on immediate wins while the major long-term solutions, around hydrogen and electric and hybrids are developed. That means more efficiencies in areas like how we manage maintenance and scheduling – it’s no good using sustainable aviation fuels if we are having to extend flight times because of disruptions and congestion.

“It’s great to see that GSAE is becoming a movement. Collaboration will turn into projects, research bids, and student projects – where we keep seeing the kind of new thinking that reminds us we can achieve more than ever imagined.”

Contributors to the first GSAE workshop also included Haldane Dodd, Executive Director, ATAG, Professor Dame Helen Atkinson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, Cranfield University, Ian Milligan, Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Analysis, University of Waterloo and Canadian MP Valerie Bradford.

Further workshops are planned to address the other top industry sustainability challenges by sharing ideas and technology, promulgating solutions, building on existing world-leading research, identifying gaps in foundational research and initiating new research.

The 10 GSAE challenges are, the Circular Economy, Sustainable Aviation Fuels scale-up, Government urgency and legislation, Adaption to climate change impacts, Integrity of offsets, Delivering short-term opportunities, Biodiversity loss, Achieving Net Zero 2050 while keeping global warming below 1.5˚C, Skills Shortages and Workforce Sustainability and Finance.

Organisations and individuals can register their interest in GSAE by contacting andi.thompson@cranfield.ac.uk