The Royal Aeronautical Society's Women in Aviation and Aerospace Group organised another highly successful conference in 2013, which addressed the challenges facing a number of areas within the aviation, aerospace and space fields. The sector must show the generations of the future that it is responsible about sustainability, not just designing the aircraft of future, according to Professor Dame Julia King, Vice Chancellor at Aston University Birmingham and a member of the Committee on Climate Change. In her Keynote Address, Dame Julia spelt out the challenges the sector faced, juggling the growth in aviation demand with reducing its impact on the climate. Although she highlighted the scale of the challenges facing the sector, she declared herself to be “a real optimist” about the future and described the challenges as “the most fantastic opportunity for engineers and scientists”.

Delegates also heard from Isabelle de Montet-Guerin, Airbus test pilot, who is responsible for testing aircraft such as the A350XWB. Isabelle was speaking on testing the aircraft of the future and predicted that there is no reason why we should not go beyond the usual flight levels and develop high atmospheric aircraft for the future. Frances Watkins, Technical Manager at BAE Systems, predicted that unmanned civilian aircraft (UAS) could be flying in UK commercial airspace by 2023, after the successful flight test of a ‘surrogate’ civilian Jetstream aircraft from Warton to Inverness and back. But she did not think there would be UAS commercial flights for the next 50 years.

Dr Bob Bradley, Head of Additive Manufacturing at GKN Aerospace, outlined the trends in aerospace manufacturing as better fuel burn and lighter aircraft. Future product differentiation would be in wing technologies and advanced fuselages, using new generation composite processes, like 3D printing, and advanced metallic processes. Full recovery in the fortunes of the private jet sector is not expected until 2016/17, according to Judith Moreton, Founder and Managing Director of Little Blue Private Jets and Founder/CEO of the Attitude Academy. As a result, industry optimism remained cautious as jets were still selling at less than 2008 prices. The market faced the same challenges as commercial aviation, she said: the need to justify resources, the demand for more eco-friendly products and for ATC to provide more direct flying routes, and interest in biofuels. There is a high human interface currently between air traffic control and aircraft, but one day not only might there be no pilots in the aircraft, but there might also be no humans in air traffic control, suggested Julie Cranch, Manager of Operational Strategy at NATS. Squadron Leader Glyn Dean, who leads the RAF’s diversity campaign described the poor take-up by young people of maths and physics limits the STEM talent pool, leading to significant shortfalls at technician and graduate level. As a result, forecast shortages vary from the gloomy to the dire, she said. “The STEM sector is already vulnerable and needs collaborative action on a massive scale by Government, employers and academia. We need a twin-track approach to develop and retain what we have and to prime the recruitment pump,” she declared.

The conference ended with a talk by Kate Arkless Gray, better known as 'SpaceKate' because of her determination to fly in space. She urged delegates to embrace social media to get your message across and also to challenge stereotyping. “Please keep sexism out of space,” she pleaded. “To inspire the next generation in space we need more visible role models, better careers information, informed teachers and parents, a higher profile in the media, and more women speakers at conferences.”

This conference was another success for the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Group who coordinated a thought provoking and well balanced conference. If you would like to get involved with Women in Aviation and Aerospace Group, you can find further details here.

If you would like to listen to any of the past Amy Johnson lectures, they are available via the AeroSociety Podcast.

Richard Nicholl
12 December 2013