Onwards and upwards: Is aviation going green?

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The Independent Online

The aviation industry is crying out for recruits in everything from green engineering to space tourism.

Green aviation jobs?

Although the aviation industry is coming under increasing pressure to clean up its act and reduce the harmful effect it’s having on our planet, that doesn’t mean it’s contracting. In fact, there’s a small irony here. The environmental imperatives facing every branch of aviation are creating jobs in the sector that would have been unimaginable a couple of decades ago.

“All aviation companies have staff who assess and manage the environmental impact of their business,” explains Michelle Di Leo, Director of Flying Matters, an umbrella organisation representing airlines, airports, manufacturers and scores of British - businesses relying on air transport, including the tourism industry. “However, these days, instead of just one person having that job title, they have teams of people who work on it,” she adds. “Across the sector, there’s a need for skilled engineers to use their expertise to make technology work better in general, and also to develop the new technologies that will generate the technological solutions to climate change and other environmental threats.”

Flying Matters estimated that there are 700,000 jobs in the UK directly or indirectly supported by the aviation industry, whose combined efforts contribute £11.5bn a year to British economy. About a third of those jobs are in the core areas – manufacturers, airlines and airports. But within those sectors, there’s a huge variety of skills and qualifications in demand. “People forget how many different types of jobs there are in aviation,” says Rosalind Azouzi, Learning and Development Manager at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the British based body whose members cover professions across the aerospace industry. “Alongside the engineers who design and repair aircraft, and the pilots who fly them, there is a huge network of suppliers providing materials, parts and services. And this is a very competitive area, so there are lots of commercial roles here too.”

A glance at the careers section of the society’s website ( www.raes.org.uk) gives a flavour of the breadth of career opportunity available. For example, graduate engineers are needed in aerodynamics, propulsion (engines), manufacturing management, avionics and materials. The scale of the workload in the coming years can be gauged by the estimate from Airbus, whose giant A380 is now in service across the world, that over the next two decades, 22,000 new aircraft will be needed, just for the passenger-carrying commercial airlines. And since technology never stands still, there’s an ongoing need for innovation in all these areas, as well, which provides countless jobs in the research field. Although computers are of course well entrenched across the industry, there are still numerous hands on roles required to put together and maintain aircraft and their components. The well-trodden route into these technical jobs is via the apprenticeship system.

Finding the right job

The RAeS recently launched a spin-off website ( www.raesglobaljobs.com) dedicated to recruitment in the sector. Anyone can, of course, browse the site for vacancies, and society members (including student members) can upload their CVs on to the site, to put themselves directly in the relevant jobs marketplace. The website, although in its early stages of growth, already reflects the range of jobs available. Earlier this week, BAE Systems were looking for 20 different specialists, including a mechanical systems designer and a contracts manager. Airbus listed six areas where recruits were needed, including airframe and landing gear design. Meanwhile, the Air Accident Investigation Branch, part of the Department of Transport, was advertising for accident inspectors: a key role in maintaining the safety record (statistically far superior to land-based transport) of air travel.

Azouzi is also keen to stress that specialisms outside engineering are also vital for the sustained health of the industry. “Psychologists are needed, for example, to investigate the human factors behind pilot performance and evacuation techniques in the event of accidents, and doctors are required for aviation and space medicine i.e. the health issues linked to flying.” This, too, is a key area in the training, and ongoing monitoring, of pilots. But the most dynamic employment area in the near and medium term is that linked to the environmental impact of flying. “Nowadays, there is a complete suite of opportunities in the aviation industry for people with life sciences qualifications,” explains Professor Callum Thomas, Chair of Sustainable Aviation at the Centre for Air Transport and the Environment (CATE) at Manchester Metropolitan University ( www.cate.mmu.ac.uk). The centre co-ordinates work at a network of UK based research centres, in- cluding Cambridge, Oxford and Cranfield Universities, focused on providing scientific data to help the aviation industry grow in a sustainable way.

The key issues here are energy conservation, air quality, noise reduction, water pollution control and, looming large over the whole landscape, the contribution air travel is making to climate change. “The philosophy of our approach is that the environment is a constraint to aviation growth,” says Thomas, “so that if you deal with these environmental issues, you unlock the constraints, so there is a good commercial reason for doing this.” A former research fellow at CATE, Chris Paling, is now part of a team of seven in the environment department at Manchester Airport, which recently announced plans to go carbon-neutral by 2015. Paling’s area of expertise is air quality, largely a local issue, and assessing the airport’s current contribution to climate change, and how that can be eliminated by 2015.

“There’s a lot of science involved and it’s very exciting, because, although I work at an airport, not an airline, I know my work is inextricably linked to the future of the aviation industry,” he explains. But, for the seriously exciting end of the aerospace industry, then space tourism must take centre-stage. Within two or three years, the first customers of Virgin Galactic will take their seats for a flight outside the earth’s atmosphere, experiencing weightlessness and savouring that iconic view of the world that only astronauts can taste. The project is already employing a team of 30: including engineers, pilots, astrophysicists, doctors, and marketing and hospitality specialists. Who knows how much this employment pool could expand if space tourism really takes off?

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