ENGINEERS MUST TAKE PART IN THE PUBLIC DEBATE AND PLAY THEIR ROLE AS CITIZEN ENGINEERS
Our world is faced with major technological, health and environmental challenges. While they may differ in nature, they all have one point in common – their great complexity, combining scientific and social aspects.
The profession of engineer entails being a bridge between science and society, using the first to take concrete action on the second. They have a crucial role in addressing the complexity of these challenges, offering ambitious solutions that are scientifically sound and socially acceptable. So engineers have things to say but we hear them too rarely in the public debate.
Higher education and research are powerful levers to be used in the transition toward a sustainable society. In recent years, our students’ awareness of climate issues has become very strong, as can be seen in their growing participation in the dedicated training modules that we have organized over the last ten years or so. Their massive mobilization is new, encouraging us to go farther in our reflections on our contribution to this transition.
A Grande École training engineers, like ours does, remains fundamentally attached to the idea of progress developed during the Enlightenment. We believe that advances in science should enable humanity to gradually take its fate into its own hands, with hopes that it makes good use of it. And we are well aware that we have a special role to play in this, contributing to furthering knowledge through our research, and notably by training young engineers to make the best use of it. We have a strong commitment to this role.
THE ECOLOGICAL TRANSITION IS THE MAJOR CHALLENGE AWAITING THE AERONAUTICAL SECTOR
The history of aeronautics and space is the history of a pioneering industry that has fulfilled some of Humanity’s oldest dreams. Crossing the Atlantic by plane or sending a human to the Moon – over the last century, aerospace engineers have repeatedly shown that they are capable of doing things that many people thought impossible. They can make the same contribution to the challenges of our ecological transition.
They have already made great contributions to diagnosing the situation. First of all, atmospheric science has developed thanks to weather balloons and airplanes; more recently, thanks to the observation satellites put into orbit in the last few decades we have, for the first time in human history, been able to measure the state of the atmosphere and of the oceans throughout the surface of the globe. Without this, it would have been impossible to understand phenomena and validate scientific models for climate change. They now need to work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero, first of all in their own field – which will not be the easiest area for doing this.
In just 100 years, aeronautical engineers have invented, secured and democratized air transport. We are no longer surprised by it, but isn’t it amazing to think that it is faster, more comfortable, safer and cheaper to take a plane than to travel by car or train when travelling distances of over 1,000 km? Progress in air transport’s energy efficiency has been just as impressive. But this is not enough. After inventing, securing and democratizing air transport, we now have to decarbonize it. There are new stakes and this is a new challenge that takes comparable ambition – we will have to take advantage of all the possibilities provided by technology and our engineers’ creativity to invent new aircraft.
Promising technological possibilities have been identified – energy sources, materials, structures, aerodynamics, engines, etc. – and there is considerable work to be done to achieve maturity for all these technologies and to reach the level of reliability and safety required for air transport. This is the job for a new generation of engineers who will have to use the latest advances in science to invent new, decarbonized aircraft that are reliable and competitive. It is an incredible challenge for the coming decades.
ISAE-SUPAERO IS NOW TAKING A SUSTAINABLE COMMITMENT
The teaching model at France’s Grandes Écoles for engineers combines high-level scientific demands, broad multidisciplinary openness and a commitment among companies and within society. Our students are destined to become players in the ecological transition.
A pioneering spirit and the potential for innovation are part of aeronautical engineers’ DNA, especially those at ISAE-SUPAERO, encouraging us to go ever farther.
We mobilized several working groups, students, research professors, industrial partners and governing bodies for one year to delve deeper into and to reformulate our strategic commitment to sustainable development. Together we took a close look at this huge challenge and we are convinced that is also a huge opportunity for our students. We are convinced that it is possible to transform the aerospace sector in the coming decades to make it a major component of a sustainable society. Space will play an ever greater role in monitoring the state of our planet, and air transport will be decarbonized in order to be able to continue meeting the long-distance transportation needs of future generations with no climate impact.
We have a duty to get to work on this immediately :
- To play our role in the aerospace sector by accepting our responsibility for preparing the future and foreseeing the necessary transformations;
- To meet the expectations of our current and future students and of our co-workers;
- To stay faithful to our history and our motto, “Excellence with a Passion”, by training engineers who will be on the cutting edge of the transformations in the aerospace sector.
We have therefore made the commitment to mobilize our educational skills and our scientific expertise to contribute to building sustainable aeronautical and space components, notably to invent the decarbonized air transport of the future. This commitment is laid out in our renewed Sustainable Development strategy: HORIZONS.
This approach has a threefold purpose:
- Making the Institute a committed player in sustainability for mobility in aviation and in the space sector by training engineers and executives capable of meeting this challenge, and by orienting our research and innovation activities in this direction.
- Giving our future graduates the keys to contribute to the public debate on energy transition and a sustainable society, using a scientific approach and a mastery of complex systems.
- Pursuing the reduction of the carbon footprint left by our activities and our campus.
Since 1909, ISAE-SUPAERO has been using a comprehensive approach to train systems engineers who, through their excellence, contribute to the emergence of solutions to our main problems and are positively committed to society’s future. We train citizens in critical thinking, aware of the changes in our world and of the fact that science and technology are at the heart of our greatest societal challenges.
The aeronautical industry is constantly changing and now must rethink, transform and reinvent itself. It will need new vision, and different, emerging skills. ISAE-SUPAERO has a role to play in this adventure by preparing our graduates to transform and reinvent the aeronautics and space sector of the future and getting involved in major groundbreaking projects as they have been doing since the beginning of the 20th century, contributing to research along these lines.
Deploying this strategy will also be an opportunity to bring our community together for an ambitious collective project that is indispensable for the future. Together, we are taking a lasting commitment to pursuing new horizons!
President of ISAE-SUPAERO
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