January 2015

At the end of 2014 I visited the Hong Kong and Montreal Branches. In Hong Kong the centrepiece of my visit was the Branch’s J K Swire Dinner and Lecture, attended by members of the local aviation industry, aerospace engineering students and visitors. The lecturer was Capt Jim ‘Guido’ DiMatteo, a former commander of the US Navy ‘Top Gun’ school for fighter pilots and former Director of Red Bull Air Races, who gave an entertaining account of his career.

In Hong Kong, I was invited to visit Cathay City at Chek Lap Kok Airport by Chris Gibbs, Cathay Pacific Engineering Director and RAeS Branch Chairman. Cathay City is a vast building containing offices for the airline’s staff, an operations centre for planning and crew briefing and some impressive training facilities. These include simulators for pilots, cabin mock-ups for cabin staff training and emergency evacuation rigs. Cathay Pacific believes it achieves considerable efficiency from having all its functions under one roof. I also visited HAECO — the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited — where I was hosted by Mark Hayman, Group Director for Engineering and Operations, and a member of the RAeS Branch Committee. Founded in 1950, HAECO is one of the world’s leading aircraft engineering and maintenance groups and claims to have the world’s largest MRO operation. HAECO’s impressive facilities at Hong Kong Airport include three heavy maintenance hangars.

I also visited the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) where the President, Mr Victor Cheung, and I signed an agreement on the Reciprocal Recognition of Professional Qualifications. Founded in 1947 as the Engineering Society of Hong Kong and catering for all engineering disciplines, the Institution was incorporated in 1975. Like the Society, the HKIE is both a professional engineering institution and a learned society. With 31,000 members, the HKIE has reciprocal agreements with many institutions around the world, including in the UK.

In Montreal I attended the 11th Assad Kotaite Lecture organised by the Montreal Branch at the HQ of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Capt Don Wykoff, President of the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations (IFALPA), gave a fascinating lecture on the outlook for civil aviation as seen from the cockpit. Afterwards I was delighted to present Don with his RAeS Fellowship certificate. This was a poignant occasion following the death of Dr Kotaite, President Emeritus of the ICAO Council, in February this year. Madame Monique Kotaite, Dr Kotaite’s widow, was one of some 150 people who braved inclement weather to attend.

I also held discussions with ICAO and with IATA (the International Air Transport Association, which is the representative body for airlines) and attended ICAO’s conference on Next Generation of Aviation Professionals. This addressed the issue of how to attract into commercial aviation the large numbers of pilots, engineers, air traffic managers and other professionals that are needed to enable the predicted growth of world air transport. Finally, I attended a colloquium of the Montreal Branch, chaired by Branch Chairman Capt Don Van Dyke, and held at the Centre québécois de formation aéronautique. This is a college that provides ab initio training up to commercial pilot licence standard for 40 students each year, funded by the Province of Quebec.

New Year is traditionally a time for reflection. I believe that the Society is in good heart, with both membership and influence growing. We have an exciting programme leading up to our 150th Anniversary in 2016. More widely, aviation around the world faces significant challenges. We will need to employ ingenuity, and the best science, engineering and management skills to meet these challenges. The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 sent a shockwave throughout the air transport industry, leading to calls for greatly improved flight tracking; this is not a trivial task. The imperative to mitigate environmental impact remains but will falling fuel prices reduce the incentive to adopt more efficient, cleaner engines? Meanwhile, many air forces wrestle with the conundrum of trying, despite declining funding, to help maintain defence and security in an unstable world.

To end on a positive note, the adventure of flight continues. The landing of Philae on Comet 67P (Churyumov-Gerasimenko) more than ten years after the Rosetta spacecraft was launched from Earth was a major scientific and engineering achievement for ESA. In addition, given our fascination with comets down the ages, there is huge symbolic significance in humans reaching out and touching a comet for the first time. Meanwhile, the recent successful test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft is another step on humankind’s journey back to the Moon and then on to Mars.

Air Cdre Bill Tyack