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Interview of Professor Jacco Hoekstra, Co-chairman of ACARE's WG5 (Research, Infrastructure, Education)

Professor Jacco Hoekstra, Co-chairman of ACARE's Working Group 5 on Research Infrastructures and Education, offered an interview about the efforts and challenges for exploiting Europe's human potential in Aeronautics. 

Q: Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) has recently reformed to the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (new ACARE). In this frame a Working Group (WG5) has been established to face the issues of prioritizing research testing capabilities and Education in Aeronautics. Could you please explain which are the objectives of this Working Group?

A: The objective of the Working Group 5 is to see how we can reach the goals as defined by Flight Path 2050 in the area of Research Infrastructures and Education. My task was to lead the subgroup on education. For this 4 more specific goals have been defined in this document:

  • Education by European Universities matches the needs of the Aviation industry, its research establishments and administrations, and evolve continuously as those needs develop. 
  • Students are attracted to careers in aviation.
  • Creation of a network of multi-disciplinary technology clusters based on collaboration between industry, universities and research institutes.
  • Lifelong and continuous education in aviation.  
These were leading in our discussion.

Q: Which are the achievements of WG5 so far?

A: We have contributed a chapter on this to the SRIA volume 1, which gives advice on how to realize these goals. For education, the European Commission has together with us held a workshop in this topic with representatives from industry, research establishments and the academia. 

Q: The "Flight path 2050" report sets a number of highly ambitious goals for the European Aeronautics community. What could be the contribution of the European academia towards achieving these goals? What changes should be made with respect to the human resources in Aeronautics?

A: In general, we think that aviation has to be a field which attracts and fosters the best talents from Europe. The academia should educate them to become aerospace professionals with an academic level of abstraction. This is more than just training them to function in the current activities. At the academic level they have to be innovators, they have to be able to look further ahead and change technology in the right direction. In term of human resource management, I think we can improve by setting up a system, a register if you will, of acknowledged aerospace engineers. This can also be used to keep track of lifelong learning. Employee should be able to keep developing themselves and this should be acknowledged as a requirement for innovative professionals. Such a register will also raise the awareness of the quality and hence the status of the profession.

Q: Europe possesses a number of first class Universities concerning aeronautics engineering education. Potentially, it is an asset for Europe. What can be still improved concerning aeronautical education in Europe?

A: There is a long list on what we think they could do in the document. Indeed, we already have very good academia but some improvements can be made in a more common definition on a European level of what we think are the key elements of an aerospace engineer. This ensures a certain quality mark of the Aerospace professional that was trained in Europe, in a transparent way, that everybody can understand. This is challenging because of the still very different requirements in the different countries, despite the Bologna treaty. The association of aerospace academia, Pegasus, can play a key role in this, but we think we also need a more permanent organizational unit, e.g. here in Brussels or in one of the academia. Just two or three people giving constants attention to this and organizing some of the events and exchanges required could make a huge difference.

Q: Is the high level of education offered in Europe enough to ensure a match between the needs of the demand site (industry, SMEs, Research Establishments but also the Universities themselves) and the skills of aeronautical engineers educated in Europe? If not, what should be still done?

A: Academics should not just be technical project managers. They should be so-called T-shaped professionals and combine a deep knowledge (the vertical bar of the T) with a broad knowledge (the horizontal bar).

Q: What would you consider as the biggest challenge for Europe concerning human resources in aeronautics?

A: Three things: 
  • allow professionals to maintain and use their skills as true innovators
  • better illustrate the attractiveness of the field by broadly communicating the achievements and challenges ahead to the general public
  • co-operate with universities in both education and outreach activities (like the school labs of DLR, schools build-a-plane of RAeS, etc.).

Date posted: July 5, 2012, 9:36 am

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