A new institute at the University of Waterloo is aiming to shape the future of the aeronautics industry at a pivotal moment for the sector and the world’s climate.

The Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA), the first of its kind in Canada to take on the challenge of making air transport sustainable, will combine the work of 50 researchers from each of the university’s faculties, and will be guided by an advisory committee that includes astronaut Chris Hadfield.

“The creation of this institute comes at an exciting time for the university and at a critical juncture for the global aeronautics sector,” said Jean Andrey, dean of the Faculty of Environment. “By combining Waterloo’s track record for technological innovation with our world-leading expertise in sustainability, WISA will pioneer new innovations to support and reform this vital industry.”

Suzanne Kearns, director of WISA, said the institute is being created as the effects of flying come under increased scrutiny around the world.

“More attention has put more pressure on policymakers and industry leaders to act,” Kearns said. “Reducing carbon emissions is a main pillar of the kind of sustainability research WISA will be exploring. Everything from e-planes, to aerodynamics, to using applied mathematics to optimize routes, all contribute to lowering emissions.”

Kearns, a pilot since the age of 16, developed her vision for a future of sustainable air-travel as an associate professor in Waterloo’s Aviation program, and by partnering with the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization to design a low-cost fundamentals of aviation certificate aimed at making education accessible in less affluent countries.

“Being sustainable means more than just being environmentally sound. It means social factors, such as professional education, human-computer interaction, and a diverse and inclusive workforce,” Kearns said. “It also means economic sustainability. COVID travel restrictions showed us the sector — responsible for $3.5 trillion in economic activity — is vulnerable. Economic sustainability and resilience ensure that aeronautics is there when we need it — to deliver vaccines for instance.

“Interdisciplinary collaboration and industry partnerships form the foundation of work that will bring WISA’s innovations to an industry playing catch-up following the COVID-19 pandemic, and looking for sustainable practices,” said Kearns.

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