“Inspiration, technology, competency, structure and risk.” These are the pillars that Commander Chris Hadfield said are the requirements for advancing the future of aeronautics at the inaugural Sustainable Aeronautics Summit on October 5, 2022.

Hosted by the University of Waterloo’s Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA), the summit brought together more than 200 researchers and leaders from academia, industry and government at the Region of Waterloo International Airport. Experts discussed solutions to build a sustainable future for air travel and advance the aeronautics industry.

Developing research-based solutions

Suzanne Kearns, the founding director of WISA, opened the event by reflecting on the future of sustainability in air transportation. “Sustainability is about meeting the needs of today without sacrificing future generations’ ability to meet their needs,” Kearns said.

The pandemic had a devasting effect on the aviation industry, and Kearns said, “WISA was created as a catalyst from the pandemic … [I wanted] to mobilize the innovative capacity of the University of Waterloo to hear the challenges of the industry and line up research-based solutions and future talent.”

However, before the pandemic, the industry was facing challenges from environment concerns of air travel, a global personnel shortage and keeping up with the fast pace of technological advancements. Kearns expanded that to have a sustainable future, aeronautics needs long-term solutions and practices that will require social, environmental and economic change.

“We know the climate crisis is the most significant challenge we face as a society,” said Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo. He said that the University is undergoing a visioning exercise to reflect on the future in 2057 when Waterloo turns 100 years old. “We’re looking at how we can help address the world’s biggest challenges with the strengths that the University has now. The work that we’re doing in sustainable aeronautics is an example of that strength.”

President Goel noted that the University will face these challenges with the support of community partners — a sentiment strongly echoed by Karen Redman, chair of the Region of Waterloo.

“There are challenges that come with growth and new innovation. Sometimes there is a need to balance key priorities that appear to be in opposition, and that is where the strength of partnerships comes into play. Industry, government and academic partnerships are key to mobilize innovation, and in this case, help move the needle towards a more sustainable future working in aviation,” Redman said.

Building competency and future talent

Hadfield provided the keynote address at the summit and discussed the foundational pillars needed to advance aviation. Hadfield is an honourary advisor to WISA and has deep connections with Waterloo as a former graduate student and adjunct professor in the aviation program.

He said that advancements in aeronautics are “not just about technologies, but also about developing new competencies.” He explained that big advancements need an inspired idea and new technologies, but to see it through and make meaningful change, you need competent talent and supporting structures in place.

Developing and supporting talent was a theme throughout the day.  Panellists and speakers made of industry and academic experts discussed topics ranging from building diverse and inclusive workforces and supporting future-ready talent to support the economic growth the sector in experiencing.

As aeronautics moves towards becoming more viable over the long term, the industry will need to not only address the real and important challenges of reducing the harmful environmental impacts, but also look to building inclusive workforces to support growth and innovation in the sector.

“I am really looking forward to what [WISA], applying these ideas, can accomplish here and now in Canada,” Hadfield said.

Want to hear more?

Listen to Suzanne Kearns on the Beyond the Bulletin podcast discussing efforts to make air travel and spaceflight more sustainable.