Major grant will help University of Waterloo build a sustainable aeronautics sector

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Man speaking at podium in front of an audience with a plane behind him.

The University of Waterloo was awarded nearly $10 million in federal funding yesterday for a major initiative to rebuild Canada's pandemic-battered aeronautics sector and position it for a more sustainable future. 

The investment will support ground-breaking research by the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA) as it explores new technologies, processes and policies to help the industry become more resilient and meet its net-zero emissions goal by 2050. 

WISA, Canada's first sustainable aeronautics institute, mobilizes the interdisciplinary research capacity of all six faculties to drive meaningful and lasting change within the aviation, aerospace and space industries. The Faculty of Science has four WISA members - Drs. Elizabeth Irving (Optometry & Vision Science), Kirsten Müller (Biology), Ben Thompson (Optometry & Vision Science) and Shirley Tang (Chemistry).

Science also offers the Science and Aviation program, that allows students to earn a Bachelor of Science degree and their Commercial Pilot Licence through the largest aviation program in Canada.

"I believe in a future where every flight we take is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Today's federal announcement is a vote of confidence that the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics will make that future possible," said Vivek Goel, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. "This support will activate the transdisciplinary research and teaching needed to reduce emissions and prepare aviation professionals to transform this vital sector."

"Ontario-made parts are found in almost every passenger plane in the world," said the Houourable Filomena Tassi, minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). "And it's the workers who will continue to take this industry to new heights. That's why our government is investing directly in the organizations, businesses and people who will drive innovation across the sector and ensure workers have the skills needed to continue growing a strong, sustainable economy that works for everyone."

COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on aviation

The funding comes through the FedDev Ontario Aerospace Regional Recovery Initiative - a $22+ million dollar initiative to support six businesses and organizations in Ontario's aerospace supply chain to increase manufacturing and productivity capabilities, green operations, train, and upskill employees, while supporting over 400 jobs across the region.

"Canada's aviation industry is working to reverse the setbacks related to COVID-19. Disruptions caused by the pandemic left passenger aircraft parked at airports for months and worsened projected shortages of pilots, controllers and maintenance engineers," said WISA's director, Dr. Suzanne Kearns.

As the recovery from the pandemic continues, the aviation and aerospace industries have a unique opportunity to explore and embrace new, potentially revolutionary technology to do their part in the fight against climate change. Worldwide, these industries are responsible for two to three per cent of all emissions. Since the industry is expected to continue to expand, emissions produced by this industry will also grow unless steps are taken toward greater sustainability.

Through this project, WISA will equip an Innovation Hub at the Waterloo Region Airport to mobilize research, access green technologies and provide hands-on aviation training. This project will support up to 39 research projects to solve sector-specific challenges, help up to 12 SMEs commercialize projects focused on aeronautical sustainability, and develop two aeronautical sustainable e-learning courses. Over 65 jobs and up to 30 SMEs are expected to be supported through this project in the Waterloo Region.

Kearns believes WISA — the first institute of its kind in Canada — can play a vital role in this shift towards sustainability. When WISA launched in the fall of 2021, its mission was to become the world's leading hub for research, technology and education to build a sustainable future for the aviation, aerospace and space industries.

"That is a goal of this funding … to take us to that mission," said Kearns.

Investing in a world-leading hub for research, technology and education

"Waterloo has the potential to be a global hub for sustainable innovation in aviation," said Kearns. "We have all the pieces here, and we would love to be the beacon where if you love aviation, sustainability and new technology — come to Waterloo."

WISA will mobilize the interdisciplinary research capabilities of Waterloo's six faculties to move forward with sustainable solutions.

Today's federal investment will support several initiatives with environmental, social and economic sustainability at their core. Examples include:

  • Support for research that has a direct impact on the aeronautics sector. The approved projects could experiment with hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels, design solar-powered hangars, pioneer networks of electric chargers for e-planes or expand the capabilities for remotely piloted aircraft and autonomous flight.
  • A new partnership between WISA, the Waterloo-Wellington Flight Centre and the Region of Waterloo International Airport, including a new "Innovation Hub" at the airport where the flight centre can expand its flight-training capacity. In addition, the Innovation Hub will be a testing ground for green technologies and new training methods.
  • Support for innovative sustainable aeronautics start-ups, which will be identified through special pitch competitions and selected for their economic and job creation potential.
  • Two new professional development e-learning courses are designed to teach the aviation workforce how to make the sector more sustainable and reduce its environmental footprint.

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