SA team from Wits makes top 50 in Airbus global aviation competition

Cape Town - The United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) has just confirmed some 1.2 billion people travelled the globe in 2016 - 4% up from 2015.

And this ever-increasing influx of global travellers has motivated four young women from Gauteng to secure a spot in the top 50 shortlisted ideas for the Airbus Fly Your Ideas global aviation competition.

The airplane manufacturer and the force behind innovative airplane designs such as the Airbus A380, A350-900 and the newest A350-1000 says it received a record 5 499 student entries from around the world.

South Africa is being represented by Team Aero Squad from the Wits University, who are working on a passenger experience innovation set to reduce aisle congestion and boarding delays.

Airplane innovation designs have been submitted in four other categories by some 356 teams from over 89 different countries - in addition to passenger experience these include Business Models, Design engineering, Flight operations, and Manufacturing

Traveller24 caught up with SA's Aero Squad Team Mates Makhosazana Moyo (22), Seshni Govender (22), Thabiso Leballo (22) and Buhle Dlodlo (21) - who are currently studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The teams says their third year Aircraft Design lecturer and mentor for the competition, Mr Michael Boer encouraged and motivated them to enter to expand  their knowledge. 

"We were always looking to balance the practical with the innovative. And for the team the problem was not what they should focus on but instead being able to choose one key idea out of many."

'Four fiercely passionate individuals'

“Imagine four innovative and fiercely passionate individuals defending these amazing ideas. In hind sight, that made choosing one quite easy, because whatever we chose, it would be a great idea," Makhosazana says.

"Everyone had an opinion and defended their ideas fiercely.”   

“As much as this was the hardest part, it was also the best part so far. There is no better privilege than hearing people share their ideas without fear of rejection,” says Buhle.

“But I think the best part of the entire competition is still to come in the following rounds.”

And while the university curriculum is full and would present a challenge in balancing it with the additional work required for the competition, the team felt they were in “danger of having no practical strengths apart from those gained from the experiments in the Lab courses”. 

“This competition would help turn me into an engineer with a healthy balance between the theoretical and practical aspects of engineering and actually using the theory for the betterment of the aviation industry,” says Buhle.

Makhosazana adds that it is the challenge of gaining experience in solving real life problems" that really excites her about the competition.  

While for Seshni the challenge was thinking out of the box and she says the team has learnt to build communication skills and work together.

“Even on tight schedules with university work and the competition, we managed to share laughs and enjoy working together.”



So what exactly is their Fly Your Idea?

The team says they drew on personal travel experiences to improve on current designs, coming up with the elevator luggage compartment for the Passenger Experience Category - which highlighted luggage handling and ease of embarking and disembarking as areas of concern.

Through their innovation the team envisages changing and easing the entire in-flight congestion experience.

The elevator luggage compartment focuses on eliminating aisle congestion before take-off and after landing caused by passengers trying to get their luggage in overhead compartments - through a luggage compartment that is located directly above the seated passenger.

This allows passengers to embark and immediately take their seats with their luggage in hand. Once seated, they may lower a compartment directly above them to a level low enough for them to place their luggage in the provided space, all whilst seated.

Removes the unnecessary annoyance of aisle congestion

“This not only makes luggage handling easier but also removes the unnecessary annoyance of aisle congestion from the embarking and disembarking stages of air travel,” says the team.

"We are studying to be engineers and whatever we design, we design it with the aim to please the end user,” says Buhle.

Thabiso says,” The aim of an aircraft is to transport passengers, so we aim to focus on improving the experience of the passengers in terms of flight safety and comfort.” 

Makhosazana says she has no doubt that practical innovation will improve air travel for the passenger and save airlines money. 

“If we could do this all without increasing airliner costs or having a negative impact on the environment, we would have achieved a lot. Better still, if the costs of flying could be reduced without compromising safety and comfort, then even more people would have air travel as an option, hopefully their favourite option.”

Trying to find different ways of doing certain things

“So much in technology in general has changed and improved, this also includes the aviation industry. By contributing to the industry and trying to find different ways of doing certain things, we stimulate the public’s interest as well as build confidence. Air travel will thus grow in so many positive ways,” says Seshni.

“Continuously improving the lives of those who travel by air whilst minimizing costs and keeping changes as simple as can be. We also hope to ensure that through this idea, passengers will have one less thing to complain about during their flights,"  says Thabiso.

What they've learnt about each other...

"Although we have different personalities and think differently, on some level we speak the same language and when you are willing to listen, you find that your team mates have strengths that you can learn from such as resilience, patience, good communication and the willingness to make sacrifices," says Buhle.

"Things always work out in the end and hard work starts to feel like fun and games." Makhosazana says she has had to deal with giving up control, realising every team member is essential to the success of the team.

"I have also learnt that l need trust my teammates because they always do a great job."

While one of the biggest lessons the team has taught Thabiso is resilience and communication, “Personally, I have learnt to never underestimate myself and always be willing to challenge yourself.”

Nothing is impossible says Seshni, if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it regardless of the obstacles you may face along the way. "

SEE: WATCH: World’s newest jetliner Airbus A350-1000 in first test flight

So where to from here...

Round to of the competition for the 50 student teams has just begun in January 2017. Each of the teams has 100 days to refine and develop their ideas. The top five teams to make it through to Round Three will spend a week at the “ProtoSpace” based at the Airbus HQ in Toulouse to prototype, test and visualise their ideas using state-of-the art equipment with personalised guidance from Airbus. 

Africa as a whole is being well represented in this year’s shortlisted teams thanks to other entrants from universities  Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon and Nigeria - with Airbus confirming "unprecedented participation from students worldwide to innovate the way we fly." 

This after a group of 60 Airbus experts and innovators assessed the ideas submitted by 356 teams from 89 countries in the fifth edition of Airbus’ Fly Your Ideas, the global student challenge organised in partnership with UNESCO.

The rigorous evaluation process took place at four different Airbus locations in France, Germany, Spain and the UK 

The competition is led by teams registered in the Asia-Pacific region. The 50 teams comprise 202 students representing 38 different nationalities. With 52% of teams mixing male and female students, two thirds of all teams are diverse in some way, for example with members coming from different countries or studying different subjects.  

SEE: Airbus exceeds 2015 targets with ground-breaking production and innovation

Innovative ideas from the 50 chosen teams also include robotic luggage trolleys and new solutions for energy harvesting and virtual reality applications.

“Fly Your Ideas is unique and we are proud of the company-wide engagement of Airbus employees who support the competition, either as assessors, mentors or experts”, says Charles Champion, Airbus Executive Vice President Engineering.

'Rare opportunity to interact directly with senior specialists'

“We are offering students the rare opportunity to interact directly with senior specialists from across the business. In turn, these experts will benefit from their direct interaction with talents from across the globe, all sharing the same passion for one of the world’s most exciting industries.”

The winning team will receive a €30 000 prize, the runner up team €15 000, at a live prize giving event in May 2017.

What to read next on Traveller24:

- African Union passport will see #AfriTravel spend rise by 24%

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