Jennifer with the Professor and the students at the expo. Image via Hamburg University

Jetliner Cabins author Jennifer Coutts Clay and professor Werner Granzeier of iPG Hamburg with students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences at AIX. Image via Hamburg University

APEX Insight: KLM, Boeing, Airbus and Hamburg Aviation are some of the companies and organizations maintaining close ties to educational institutions. By organizing innovation competitions and coordinating special events that explore topics like supersonic jet travel, these companies encourage students to help shape the future of commercial aviation.

Through competitions, collaborations and one-on-one guidance, aviation’s most experienced professionals do their part to foster innovation by sharing insights with tomorrow’s engineers and designers. The Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg is an ideal opportunity for students to meet with industry specialists and explore the products and technologies rising to prominence in the skies. At this year’s event, which took place earlier this month, organizers arranged a special Q&A session between Jetliner Cabins author Jennifer Coutts Clay and professor Werner Granzeier of iPG Hamburg , with students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg).

Coutts Clay shared the knowledge she accrued over decades working on cutting-edge cabin design, airline branding and passenger services. The students were especially keen to hear more about her experience working on the Concorde program for British Airways. “It was interesting that slightly more than half of the session time was used for discussions on Concorde,” Coutts Clay says.

The students’ fascination with supersonic travel is timely. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of supersonic passenger services at New York’s JFK Airport, and the AIX issue of Aircraft Interiors International magazine included an editorial by Coutts Clay about the Concorde program. With new projects like Spike, Elon Musk’s electric supersonic airplane proposal and Richard Branson’s investment in Boom making headlines, it’s no surprise that students wanted to learn more about flight at Mach 2.

“During their professional careers, they will witness the development of second-generation supersonic aircraft.” — Jennifer Coutts Clay, aviation author

“[These] aeronautical engineering students are in the age bracket where, during their professional careers, they will witness the development of second-generation supersonic aircraft. And they might encounter exciting opportunities to work in this field. The time the students spent with me discussing Concorde, the first-ever supersonic passenger transport, will, I hope, provide an authentic experiential platform for their thinking during the coming decades, when commercial space travel eventually becomes a reality,” Coutts Clay says.

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are doing their part to encourage students interested in the aviation industry. KLM and TU Delft announced a new “Design Doing” partnership during ITB Berlin this year, which will help boost innovation at the airline with practical, deliverable improvements.

Launched in 2008, Airbus’ biennial Fly Your Ideas competition, developed in partnership with UNESCO, encourages students around the world to present their ideas for improving air travel. This year, students are competing for a €30,000 prize and are studying a variety of disciplines, from natural sciences to engineering and business. This year’s shortlist includes a concept to turn aircraft into “Earth Observation Devices” that can use satellite connectivity to monitor ecological health on the ground and aid with urban planning. Other shortlisted innovations include an improved airport taxiing system, an app which would assign boarding status based on the size of passenger bags, an under-seat storage compartment and a new fire-fighting solution employing A400M aircraft. Fly Your Ideas also has an online community that connects students to Airbus experts and mentors, academics and other students around the world.

Boeing coordinates a series of special competitions to encourage future innovators, even those with the tiniest wings. The manufacturer also partners with educational institutions to get kids excited about pursuing careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Initiatives include design challenges from Curiosity Machine and the Above and Beyond aerospace exhibition, which premiered at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

From its inception, the Crystal Cabin Award has been dedicated to encouraging aviation’s stakeholders to think of new ways to make the skies a better place. To encourage tomorrow’s designers, the award includes a university category open to students around the world. This year’s winner, the “Smart Onboard Wheelchair” concept from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW) addresses the travel needs of limited mobility travelers.

Professor Granzeier, a co-founder and jury member of the Crystal Cabin Award, who taught aircraft exterior and interior industrial design for 30 years at Hamburg University, believes that these direct interactions with the industry are essential skill and confidence builders for students.”For all of our students, the practical experience in the whole of the cabin world is very important, and it’s a great part of their qualifications to work in the real world of cabin concept and cabin development,” he says. “They become exposed to concepts like ergonomics, design philosophy and advanced techniques, materials and processes. We believe participating in international cabin competitions is one of the basics to start a career for aircraft interior engineers and designers.”

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.