Three students from Melbourne’s RMIT University have been named runner-up of the Airbus Fly Your Ideas competition.
Team Aquarius, comprising Anil Ravindran, Kerry Phillips and Philipp Klink, were recognised for their concept of a United Nations-backed fleet of Airbus A400Ms to fight bushfires around the world using a removable fire retardant tank carrying a 30,000 litre payload that could be quickly installed.
This would help address a need for better global collaboration on fire-fighting.
The trio was presented with the runner-up trophy at the Fly Your Ideas awards ceremony at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse on Wednesday (European time).
Ravindran said it was thrilling to have done so well in the hard-fought competition, which attracted more than 350 entrants from around the world and involved three rounds of assessment.
“Being in the top five is great, but the runners up was something that we are very happy to have achieved. It’s amazing,” Ravindran said shortly after the presentation ceremony.
“Hopefully we can pursue this further in the near future and expand it in the form of projects we can conduct and hopefully collaborate with Airbus.”
Phillips said the project had a deeper significance for the team, given the catastrophic 2009 Victorian bushfires that resulted in the deaths of 173 people.
“The Black Saturday fires was all very personal to us, it was less than 100km from where we live now and it cost the Australian government US$3.3 billion to the economy,” Phillips said.
“We need to start the conversation, the conversation that currently we don’t have a solution and what we have is not enough to fight what we need to.”
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The global competition was granted UNESCO patronage in 2012, and offers students an opportunity to work with a team of aviation professionals on real-world challenges, going beyond the aircraft itself. The competition is open to students of all nationalities and all disciplines – from engineering to marketing and science to design.
The winner of the competition was Team DAELead from The University of Hong Kong, for its design of a personal storage compartment located underneath cabin floor of a commercial airliner.
Team Nevada from Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, Team SkyVision from the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom and Team PassEx from the Institut d’Administration des Entreprises – IAE Toulouse were the other three finalists.
Nevada had devised an algorithm to help reduce taxi times at busy airports, SkyVision looked at capturing high-quality vision through the installation of a camera on the belly of a commercial aircraft, and PassEx developed a model for improving boarding time based on a passenger carryon luggage size.
The five teams had spent the past week in Toulouse meeting with Airbus subject matter experts, developing a prototype for their ideas at the airframer’s workshops and fine-tuning their pitch for a delivery to the four-person jury on Tuesday evening.
And despite being a competition, Klink said everyone had enjoyed meeting members of the other teams and discussing their respective ideas in the spirit of collaboration.
“We met them only a week ago but they have all become friends of ours,” Klink said.
Patron of Fly Your Ideas and Airbus executive vice president for engineering Charles Champion said the Aquarius team’s concept had great potential.
“It is one of those which stands out in terms of really having a global view, understanding a global problem, and seeing what is my contribution, what could I actually offer in order to solve that problem,” Champion told journalists after the awards ceremony.
“From that point of view I think the Aquarius team is outstanding in terms of their idea.”
Champion also talked up Team DAELead’s new storage concept, which he said opened up a new possibility about how to use the available space in the cabin.
“The airlines will look at it,” he predicted.
“I’m sure we will get questions in the coming hours, days, weeks. Is it true? What can you propose? And so on and so forth.”
Team DAELead received a €30,000 (A$45,000) first prize, while runner-up Team Acquarius picked up a cheque for €15,000 (A$22,500). The competition began in 2009 and is run every two years.
Aquarius’s runner-up placing continues Australia’s, and RMIT’s, great run at this competition. A team from Queensland University won the inaugural Fly Your Ideas in 2009, while an RMIT team was runner-up in 2013.
Champion said the 2017 edition of Fly Your Ideas was the best one yet and paid tribute to all teams involved.
“I found it was the best Fly Your Ideas this time because the ideas were really diverse and all of them were good,” Champion said.
The four-person jury comprised Champion, Morgan State University assistant vice president for international affairs organisation Yacob Astatke, European Aviation Safety Organisation (EASA) chief engineer Pascal Medal and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) assistant program specialist Rovani Sigamoney.
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