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Interview of Professor Joachim Szodruch, Chairman of the Board of Hamburg Aviation

Professor Joachim Szodruch, Chairman of the Board of Hamburg Aviation, evaluates the efforts made in the frame of FP7 to reach the targets set by the Vision 2020, comments on the realization of Horizon 2020 in Aeronautics-related upstream research, discusses the role of Academia in the new context, and many more.

Q1) You have been one of the very active players at the European level by occupying some key professional positions for realizing the Vision 2020 for Aeronautics. On the other side the year 2020 is approaching near. How do you evaluate the efforts made in the frame of FP7 in order to achieve the targets set by the Vision 2020?
It was at the end of the last century when a small group (namely Aeronautical Advisory Group) discussed not only the set-up of ACARE but also gave some thought to the goals to be defined. So we saw plenty of time ahead of us to research and to demonstrate the various technologies which were supposed to dominate the next generation of aircraft. The very ambitious goals were technically and politically motivated in order to stimulate the engineers and scientists but also to get the attention of the politicians in the Member States as well as at European level. Looking back I was at that time not at all sure if the European stakeholders would accept these goals which were supposed to provide the basis for the Vision 2020. ACARE was eventually initiated and with the large group of experts (up to 500 people were involved) the Vision 2020 was written and by all agreed with unchanged ambitious goals. It became OUR common European Vision!
This background is important to realise before the question about the achievements can be answered and understood. In the following years not only the European Framework Programs, the EREA network, organisations like Eurocontrol as well as the national research was dedicated totally to the goals of the Vision 2020. This combined effort by everybody made it possible that progress toward the goals was excellent. In various evaluations and reports at "Vision 2020 midterm" in 2010 we could read that most of the goals reached quite a high level of fulfillment and if the ongoing research goes ahead like planned up to 80% of the goals could be demonstrated within a reasonable time frame. Looking back now 15 years when the first papers and initial presentations of Vision 2020 were made public I am honestly very pleased about the achievements to this date and optimistic concerning the year 2020.  This technical progress however is based to a large extent to something we also had to learn over the past decades, the powerful way of a deep and trustful cooperation within the European aeronautical research community (including of course some international partners).

Q2) Horizon 2020 has been launched in a much different economic environment than FP7. I apprehend that, regarding Aeronautics, we are now witnessing a clear shift of targets to ones of higher Levels of Technological Readiness as, by setting the goal to come through research close to products, it is more likely to retain jobs or to create new jobs in the short run. Do you agree with this approach and consequential shift?
In principal I agree with this approach but not with your proposed assumptions and consequences. I believe the shift to higher TRL's we seem to see today is not due to Horizon 2020 but it is a longer term evolution in the set-up of European research and technology programs. When the first European aeronautics project was launched in late 1989 already then the goal was to reach a higher technology level by flight demonstration. At that point in time there was no sophisticated system of determining TRLs but the solid research, the engagement of people and the methodologies were of the same quality as today. Since then it took some effort in convincing politicians of the importance of common aeronautical research, new instruments in the various Framework Programs as well as experience in European cooperation to come to what we now witness in Horizon 2020 and what has been build up in Clean Sky.
Of course environmental issues have been on the list for a long time as one of the major goals. But we should not forget that competitiveness is further determined by another goal which we also follow since decades which is to shorten time to market and reduce development time. This of course includes the reduction of risks when introducing new technologies. The logical consequence is to define major technology demonstration programs which not only fulfill the competitive goals of industry but also the societal needs. This in turn requires a certain focus of our common goals and of course an adequate budget. Based on the Vision 2020 and Flightpath 2050 we defined the goals of Clean Sky and I believe it is a great and exciting achievement after 25 years of aeronautical research in Europe.
Looking at Clean Sky in some more detail we will find that even if the ultimate goal is a demonstration of Technology Readiness Level 6 there are numerous studies which were stimulated and supported by the program which are well below TRL 6. Certainly these are important parts of the program as well in order to keep up the innovation process, to insert new ideas and to provide eventually competitive products.
In summary I believe we have set up in Europe a rather successful aeronautical research program system which will deliver not only close to product technology demonstrators but also in many areas new lower TRL technologies as a starting point for further intensified research. We only need to take care that the chain of technology development from TRL 1 to 6 is well preserved and strongly supported in our now well established system of national and European research.

Q3) What is the significance of long-term upstream research for Aeronautics and how do you assess the perspectives for performing aeronautics-related upstream research in the frame of H2020? What should be the role of Academia in this context?
Not only in general but also if one looks at some more details into the technologies we are working on today it becomes clear that we research topics which in diplomatic terms already have a longer history. Just mentioning those key technologies like laminar flow, open rotor or composite materials it becomes clear that we are still living on ideas which are a couple of decades old. Even introducing all of these technologies into the next products will not satisfy the goals of Flightpath 2050 which are by the way to be demonstrated in only 35 years ! And please remember, the first European laminar flow demonstrator program (ELFIN) started in late 1989, that is already 25 years ago, and we are still working?..
I strongly believe we are in great need of new ideas, new technologies, a strong fundamental research campaign in order to prepare for competitive products and to eventually fulfill the Flightpath 2050 goals. It is not enough to define "new" terminologies like "radical or disruptive technologies" but it is the stimulating and encouraging innovation environment we have to create, the support and motivation of young people to enter our business and to prepare adequate research programs. As a general remark I tend to believe that these basic scientific research tasks are better to be supported on a national rather than on a European basis.
Traditionally that fundamental research has been the role of Academia and I see no reason for changes. Of course I am aware of the fact that current budget constraints are not very helpful and third party funding at Universities are usually not supporting the kind of research I am envisioning. There is no easy answer but potentially there is a need for discussion among Academia and I believe this is an exciting goal for EASN to follow.

Q4) EASN as the Association of European Academia, is seeking for a close cooperation with the other stakeholders of the Aeronautics sector, i.e. the industry, the research establishments and the Small and Medium Enterprises. Do you feel that the present level of contribution on one hand and cooperation on the other hand is satisfactory? What still needs to be done? What could be a proper way to better link Academia with SMEs?
If one looks at the statistics on the participation of Academia in the European research programs then we have to conclude that our system works well. Academia and Research Establishments are all well represented and they work in almost all domains together with industry and to a lesser extent also with SME's. So concerning the numbers there is generally nothing to complain. Concerning content I would like to come back to what I have mentioned already at the end of the previous question, the innovation culture and the adequate instruments need to be kept, extended or build up so that Academia would be able to play that role.
Concerning the relation of Academia with the various stakeholders there are different observations to be made. The cooperation between Academia and Research Establishments is very much dependent on the national environment and policy and to a less extent to European programs. On the other hand the major industries are normally maintain a major European network of Academia and support them in direct contracts or through European projects and in such a way also satisfy their need for young engineers as future employees.
Probably the only weaker link is the cooperation between Academia and SME's. Especially in this domain I believe a great potential is hidden for strengthening our industrial competitive basis in Europe. It is a discussion which has a longer history as well and of course improvements are visible but further specific efforts and support is needed. Currently the Clean Sky JU is thinking about to develop that relationship further, trying to explore the possibilities and to design adequate models for support. Instruments supporting PhD studies or master thesis performed at and with the patronage of SME's within the European programs could be one way of improving the cooperation. Certainly other options must be explored as well.
This I believe is not only for the benefit of the SME's but also a good chance for the Universities in increasing their competences in cross-fertilizing industrial research and education.  EASN through all the members should support these processes and thus become an even more active partner in the European research system.

Q5) In concluding, is there any adjunct message you would like to get across to the readers of this interview?
Something I learned in my long years in science and engineering, in industry as well as in research establishments or Universities is the value of sharing ideas, of stimulating discussions with national and international colleagues, the value of collaboration and team work. This cannot be better described as with words from Albert Einstein: "Progress lives on the exchange of knowledge". And if that is arranged across different nations, educational backgrounds, mentalities and cultures the more powerful the result. EASN as the representation of European Academia has all the main ingredients to fully utilize its potential and to increase their influence on European research and education in an active way.

Date posted: December 9, 2015, 8:04 am

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