Introduction

Airbus Fly Your Ideas is a unique global student competition, designed to establish a strong and lasting relationship between Airbus and the next generation of aviation engineers and innovators. The competition offers a unique opportunity for students worldwide to innovate with a leading global company on real-world aviation issues, and develop valuable skills for their future careers, including working as part of a team, project management, communications and presentation skills, incorporating critical feedback.
In every edition, 5 teams are selected, via three increasingly selective rounds to spend time behind the scenes with Airbus and present their ideas to an expert jury; the winning team take home a prize of €30,000 and the runners up €15,000.
Since its inception in 2008, 15000+ students have registered to participate in Fly Your Ideas, from over 600 universities in over 100 countries worldwide. The final of the 4th edition of the competition took place in May 2015, at the Airbus site in Hamburg, Germany.
Students are encouraged to include team members from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, and all teams must be supported by an Academic Mentor from one of the team members’ institutions. Projects are assessed by Airbus staff and all teams get feedback as early as Round 1, while the 100 teams selected from the initial entries for Round 2 get significant input from Airbus Mentors and Airbus Experts made available to provide guidance on challenges.
The Jury evaluating the finalists is made up of Airbus and industry experts, all passionate about sharing their expertise and inspiring students to innovate for the sustainable future of aviation. Recognising the shared goal of encouraging more students to consider careers in engineering & innovation, and to prepare them for the workplace, Fly Your Ideas has had a partnership with UNESCO since 2012.

Synopsis

Objective

Airbus launched Fly Your Ideas in 2008 with the aim of engaging with universities and students worldwide, to inspire students about engineering and their ability to innovate for the future, and to help students understand, and develop, the employability skills that employers require.
Students were invited to form diverse teams of 3 to 5 members and develop an idea to tackle 1 of 6 challenges, reflecting 21st century challenges for the aviation industry: Energy; Efficiency; Affordable Growth; Traffic Growth; Passenger Experience; and Community Friendliness.
Since 2008, over 380 Airbus employees have supported the competition - mainly in the roles of Assessors, Mentors and Experts for the student teams. This interaction with industry figures is a notable benefit to students a unique opportunity to be exposed to industry feedback, knowledge sharing and critical thinking. A previous participant noted that Fly Your Ideas promotes innovation and gives a sense of what is expected in a professional environment: affordability, marketability, etc. These criteria are often neglected in traditional education environments.
During the final stage of the competition, the 5 finalist teams spend a behind-the-scenes week with Airbus, when they get intensive coaching and training in preparation for their final presentation to the jury. Teams are helped develop their presentations, given media training in anticipation of the extensive international media interest in the competition, and have the opportunity to network with senior Airbus and industry employees.
Although not part of the formal recruitment process, Fly Your Ideas enables Airbus to interact with a global pool of talents who may become more involved in the aviation sector in the future, and to ensure that the next generations are better prepared for the demands of the labor force. Fly Your Ideas equips students with both hard and soft skills that will be invaluable to future employers.

Approach

In Airbus Fly Your Ideas, teams tackle genuine problems faced by the aviation industry, work to tight deadlines and are required to develop several pieces of work that reflect real-world working practices; visual sketches to illustrate their projects; videos to promote their idea and their team, report-writing, and demonstrating a clear understanding of the potential benefits of their idea.
Team Coz (University of Queensland, Australia) winners in 2009, focused on the use of a pioneering natural fiber composite made from castor plants, for aircraft cabin materials. 2011 winning team was Team Wings of Phoenix (China Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics) and their winning idea was based on a ground-based wind power generation system derived from aircraft wakes. Team Levar (University of São Paulo, Brazil), the 2013 winners considered the sustainability of the people within the industry and proposed a luggage loading and unloading system for airplane cargo compartments to reduce the workload of airport baggage handlers with an air cushion solution inspired by air hockey tables.

There is a focus on the importance of diversity - every winning team to date has had mixed nationalities, genders, profiles or disciplines. 70% of the teams who registered for Fly Your Ideas 2015 comprised mixed genders, and / or from multicultural and multidisciplinary backgrounds.

Teams also build invaluable intercultural skills from organizing calls with Airbus experts across time zones to teams (including the 2015 winners) who are remote and must learn to work together whilst not physically in the same location. For many participants, the competition is their first opportunity to meet and engage with people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. This reflects the globalized working environments that successful graduates will be working in throughout their careers. It is also an opportunity for students to develop their skills in English for professional purposes.

Engagament

Airbus Fly Your Ideas has created new communication channels and strong messages from Airbus to both internal and external stakeholders. When asked what attracted them to take part in the competition, career opportunities came first with 61%. 94% of alumni would encourage other students to take part in the Fly Your Ideas competition.
On the competition website, there is information about the challenges, updates on the latest stages of the competition and regular features offering insight into employability skills. For the 2015 edition, there were 51,000 unique visitors to the site and 308,000 unique page views.
The competition has evolved throughout the years to be more interactive, reflecting the growing importance of new communication channels, including social media. Team Lines are Round 2 teams web page where they can share updates of their idea development with the public. This feature was added in the 2013 edition. This reinforces the development of presentation skills and students ability to articulate their vision, and encourage others to support their work.
An online platform was added to the Fly Your Ideas website for the 2015 challenge. Lets Connect facilitates co-innovation and communication. This online community enables participants to network, connect and share their interest in innovation and the future of aviation with interested parties and supporters of the competition, past participants, academia etc. 578 members joined by May 2015, and there were 1705 posts, with 196,000 page views.
Winners and finalists of the past editions include teams from The University of Queensland, Australia, The National University of Singapore, University of São Paulo, Brazil, Technical University of Milan, Italy, MIT, USA, and Technical University of Delft. Previous participants have gone on to develop their ideas further, pursued careers in the aerospace industry or within the innovation function of manufacturers and non-aviation industry companies.

Impact

The competition has been presented at a wide range of industry events around the world, including ICAS in Russia, Africa Engineering Week in South Africa, Aerospace Futures in Australia, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in the US, and the annual World Engineering Education Forum in Dubai, UAE. More educators worldwide understand now how competitions such as Fly Your Ideas can support student development alongside classroom learning. With the current trend for more soft skills, innovation and entrepreneurship alongside technical education, Fly Your Ideas is a perfect example of how, rather than adding to coursework, students can build the necessary skills outside the classroom. As each team must have an Academic Mentor, the academic staff are engaged in supporting the development of key skills and 30% of teams were created because professors integrated the competition into the classroom.

Several students from the finalist teams have completed internships or work contracts with Airbus. Many more have used their Fly Your Ideas experience as a launchpad for careers with leading aviation and engineering companies, or have developed their Fly Your Ideas projects through further studies and research.
A member of the Airbus Fly Your Ideas 2009 winning team Coz, from Australia was promoted to Senior Research Engineer at Advanced Composites Structures Australia Pty Ltd, the foremost composite structures research organization in Australia. Finalists in 2011, Team Malaysia on Mars has two members who after graduating went on to work for aerospace parts manufacturing companies. One of the winning team members from USP Brazil joined Nike to work on Design space - phenomenal house for the World Cup 2014. One member of Team Flybrid, finalist in Fly Your Ideas 2013 went on to do an internship at Airbus, Germany and is now working with the German Aerospace Center on a project with Airbus.

Next Steps

Airbus Fly Your Ideas will be presented at several industry events throughout 2015, showcasing the finalists innovative ideas and the background to the challenge. Members of the finalist teams will join these events in person, sharing their experience of the competition, how Fly Your Ideas helped them develop their skills and their plans to use what they have learnt in their careers or further studies. Their testimony and enthusiasm will inspire other young people to take up the call to innovate with Airbus in the future, and also demonstrate to the education sector, how students can build up the employability skills that matter outside the classroom.
Here are some of the events that are planned until the end of the year: 20 -24 September 2015: World Engineering Education Forum, Florence, Italy26 - 28 October 2015: 9th Youth Forum of UNESCO, UNESCO Headquarters in Paris4 - 7 November 2015: World Science Forum 2015, Budapest Hungary; 10 - 12 November, Dubai, UAE: International Association of Women in Aviation Annual Conference; 30 November - 2 December, Adelaide, Australia: Global Engineering Deans Council Annual Conference.
Meanwhile, Team Multifun (2015 winners with their idea to entail aircraft wings dressed in a composite skin that harvests energy from natural vibrations or flex in the wings) continue to develop their idea further, with continued support from their Airbus mentor.
The competition website and Lets Connect platform are still active, with regular posts on the topics of interest for this engaged community for example, what skills are important to employers, other initiatives promoting innovation within Airbus, updates on teams. In the period between competitions, the site and the communities continue to act as a hub of interest for students and people who are interested in aviation and innovation, within the context of skills, experience and attributes that employers seek.

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