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									Green ideas take flight

Varsity students come up with ideas and plans to promote air travel in
the most eco-friendly manner at a global competition.

FIRST-TIME flyer Airull Juhari felt his moment of epiphany soon after his
16-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Paris.

“It is exciting to be transported to somewhere so different from home,”
said the third-year engineering student from Institute of Product Design
and Manufacturing, Universiti Kuala Lumpur (IPROM, UniKL) who represented
Malaysia at the Airbus Fly Your Ideas (FYI) Competition 2011 last month.

If that experience did not kick up the wanderlust in Airull, it certainly
added him to the statistics of young people embracing air travel as a
mode of transportation.

Airbus executive vice-president of engineering Charles Champion was
especially interested to engage with the group and had wanted to know if
they would ever think that air travel would be a thing of the past over
the next 40 years.

The response he got was not unexpected.

“They’ve said that they expect to travel even more than people do today.
However, they also want to travel in a more cost-efficient and
environmentally-friendly way,” added Champion during an interview with
the online environmental news site BusinessGreen.

Sowing green seeds

Fuelled by non-renewable energy, air travel is one of the contributors to
global warming.

A study estimated that a single trans-atlantic return flight emits almost
half the carbon dioxide emissions as from all other sources (lighting,
heating, car use, etc.) consumed by an average person yearly.

Taking heed of the concerns of the future jet-setters, the leading
European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has earmarked green air travel and
the sustainability of the aviation industry as the key indicators in its
development plans.

The biennial Airbus FYI was launched in 2008 by the company to seek out
university students worldwide for their innovative ideas on how to build
a sustainable green aviation industry.

Tom Enders, Airbus President and CEO, said: “Innovation is the essential
ingredient for maintaining our industry’s license to grow, and the Fly
Your Ideas competition is a unique opportunity for students worldwide to
promote their ideas for the sustainable future of flight.

“ It is also a strong lever to engage with the next generation of talent
who will push the limits of research and technology further.”

A team of multinational students from Queensland University, Australia,
won the inaugural Airbus FYI with their proposal to use natural fibre
composite made from castor plants in aircraft cabins.

The competition returned this year with its new theme — The Environmental
Life Cycle.

Students participated in teams of three to five members and they were
encouraged to propose an idea related to one stage of the aircraft’s
design from its design, supply chain, manufacturing, aircraft operations
or aircraft end-of-life.

Teams shortlisted for the second round developed their ideas with support
from the Airbus employees while only five teams were chose for the final
presentation held during the International Paris Air Show last June.

The Kapok Tree factor

Calling themselves Msia on Mars, the Malaysian team’s ultimate mission is
to venture on an outer space exploration but they were brought down to
earth to enter the final round of Airbus FYI by the humble kapok tree
Ceiba petandra.

In their entry proposal, Airull, together with his teammates Ahmad Khairi
Ahmad and Wan Nor Hami Wan Isa recommended that the glass fibres in
aircraft thermal insulation blankets be replaced with fibres from the
kapok tree.

“The people of South East Asia have been sleeping on pillows with the
fibres from the tree for centuries.

“We decided to use something from our backyard to build a greener
aircraft,” said team leader Ahmad Khairi, 28.

With the guidance from their lecturer Assoc Prof Abu Hanifah Abdullah and
Airbus mentor Octavio Hernandez Gonzalez, the team conducted a series of
tests to demonstrate the viability of their natural fibre solution in
terms of its thermal and acoustic proportis as well as it being compliant
with flammability airworthiness requirements.

“The fibres from the kapok tree are highly flammable. The material must
be treated with fire retardant solution before it is safe to be used in
aircrafts,” explained Ahmad Khairi.

As Gonzalez is based in Spain, the team communicated weekly with him via
Skype. He joined them in Paris during the final presentation round.
“I am really glad that the students made it this far in the competition
as they had worked very hard for the project.” said Gonzalez who
supported the students by helping them with their research for the

Prior to their departure to Paris, the students had a pre-presentation
round with Malaysia’s Angkasawan and former Airbus FYI judge Datuk Dr
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor.

“We realised that our team was not so strong on presentation. The session
with Dr Sheikh was very helpful as he gave us his feedback and pinpointed
how we could bring forth our ideas more convincingly,” said Ahmad Khairi.

The final battle commenced on presentation day and Msia on Mars were
pitted against other teams from China, India, Chile, and Sweeden.

Displaying Malaysian-style geniality, Ahmad Khairi and his teammates
presented the panel of international jury members with little pillows
sewn with the kapok tree fibres.

Months of preparation put the students at ease on stage but the ultimate
challenge culiminated during the question-and- answer session when the
students were grilled by the panel consisting of senior leaders in the
aviation industry.

The jury probed into the sustainability of the kapok fibres as they asked
about the cost-effectiveness of the project and the environmental impact
of planting kapok trees.

“I was tongue-tied at first when the jury posed the question. My first
thought was on the fact that the trees are widely grown in South East
Asia, I then explained this to the judges and mentioned about how we
estimated the cost of implementing this project,” said Ahmad Khairi after
the presentation.

“The jury members actually asked very good questions that got us thinking
as to how we could make our proposal more comprehensive,” added Wan Nor

Making strides

Nature was also behind the inspiration for the idea proposed by the
youngest team in the finals, team O3 from the Indian Institute of
Technology Roorkee.

“Pour some water on a lotus leaf and the droplets will slide off. We
wanted to create something similar on the surface of the aircraft to
prevent icing prior to takeoff,” elaborated team leader and polymer
science student Gowri Shankhar Suresh, 19.

The solution suggested by O3 comes in the form of water-repelling polymer
coatings which has strong adhesive strength and can withstand the
aircraft operating environment.
“Aircraft weight will be reduced as it no longer needs to carry aircraft
de-icing products and anti-icing equipment with the use of this water-
repelling polymer,” said Suresh.

Another team which focussed on the aircraft design was team Condor from
Chile from Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria.

Being the few female students in the finals, team leader Nicole Batarce
commanded attention when she walked the jury members through the
intricate technical details of their proposed energy recovery speed brake

The 21-year-old cyber engineering student certainly knew her stuff well
as airplanes had been her object of fascination since she was a little

Teammates Hans Schuler and Javier Gonzalez jokingly called her “The

“Our idea would help the aircraft conserve energy as the blades rotate
and generate electrical energy to provide certain auxiliary power
functions and facilitate ground operation,” explained Batarce.

Meanwhile, team SSE from Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, brought a
totally different concept to the fray.

Targeting frequent flyers, the multinational team introduced the
formulation of an ECO point scheme on the Internet as a measure to
promote environmentally-friendly flying.

“We believe that knowledge empowers travellers to make the best decision.
The power to protect the Earth is in their hands by choosing to fly with
the airline with the most environmental friendly practice,” said team
member Stuart Turkelson, 34.

Under their proposal, the scheme which will also be available on mobile
phone applications feeds travellers with reviews of the carbon footprints
of the different airlines, starting from aircraft operation, maintenance
and end-of-life disposal.

“Try to imagine this scheme as the hotel review sites that travellers
frequent. The system we are proposing creates a win-win situation which
rewards both the airline and the traveller,” said Turkelson who is
currently doing his Master’s degree in management.

Wings of Phoenix from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics,
China, emerged the top team in the competition. Overcoming the language
barrier, the team gave an immaculate presentation on their suggestion of
a ground-based wind power generation system derived from aircraft wakes.

“It was a quiet afternoon in the classroom when I thought about this idea
to make use of the energy generated from wake turbulence,” said team
leader Zheng Xinyuan.
“Just imagine the amount of energy that can be conserved as the power
generated can be channelled back to the airport,” added the aeronautical
design student.

To capture the energy, the team proposed the placement of a series of
leaf-shaped devices with electro-mechanical designs along the sides of
airport runways.

Judges were very impressed with the innovative idea.

“It was a difficult deliberation to select the winner from the five
teams. The Chinese team had a little edge over the rest because they
presented a very well thought out plan taking factors such as weather and
airport safety regulations into consideration,” said jury member Barbara
Cassani who was the founder and chief executive officer of the United
Kingdom-based low cost airline Go.

Emirates Airline senior vice-president Andrew Parker who sat at the jury
panel even jokingly said that airlines could start charging airports for
the electrical power they were generating.

Wings of Phoenix brought home the cash prize of ‚30,000 (RM129,000) while
the runner-up, team Condor from Chile collected ‚15,000 (RM64,300).

The video prize winner was team Ecolution from Universidad Pontificia
Comillas, Spain.

The competition drew entries from more than 2,600 students from 75
countries, representing 287 universities. The organisers also announced
during the prize presentation ceremony that all the winners and finalists
would be awarded internships at Airbus.

Although Msia on Mars did not pick up any prize, Ahmad Khairi said the
experience entering the finals was one big eye-opener to him and his

“It was exciting to be able to visit the international air show and there
was so much we learnt apart from aircrafts.

“Before the presentation, participants are coached on how to speak to
corporate figures and the press. I would say that the public relations
skills that we learnt would definetly come in handy in the future,” he

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