In an exclusive interview with HT Education, Charles Champion, Airbus executive vice president (engineering), speaks on how the Fly Your Idea global competition has been attracting thousands of students across the world. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of holding the Fly Your Idea Contest and how far have you been able to achieve it?
The idea behind the contest is to engage the young graduates and young engineers in understanding the problems of the aviation industry. We need new and fresh ideas to meet the growing challenges of the industry. It’s quite important to make our young generations grow to meet the future requirements of the aviation sector. As compared to the last two events, this season of the Fly Your Idea contest witnessed huge participation of students and teams from across the globe. So, the growing interest of young people shows that we are right on target.
Losing teams feel that their innovations are important but since they were unable to communicate effectively what their innovation was all about during the question-answer session with the jury, they couldn't win. Should that undermine the importance of an innovative idea?
I think you have hit the most important point. The contest is not only about an innovative idea but also about one’s ability to express it. It forces the team to think about the next step after getting a good idea. What does it bring in terms of value to the customers and to the world? What’s the level of effort that is required? Is there a case for that idea? So, the contest forces you to go beyond the idea and think how you can make that happen. We are encouraging students to learn how to communicate, sell, explain and convince people about a particular innovation.
How has the association of Unesco made a difference to the contest?
It does make a big difference and give a boost to the contest. Unesco is a government-based organisation while we are a private industry but we share a common goal. We both want to attract the young generation towards engineering in both developed and developing countries.
One can understand the contest benefits the students in many ways, but what does Airbus get out of it?
I think the benefit is long- term. The first is in terms of innovation. Students come up with many ideas and issues and maybe there are many we need to examine. It also brings ideas about new material to be used in the aviation industry.
We are examining the viability of some of the concepts that students proposed in the previous contests. Their inputs are quite valuable for the growth of the industry. So, to meet the future challenges of the industry, it’s quite important to engage them towards it.
So, do you see any improvement in the quality of innovation after every contest?
Yes and based on our experience we can say that this third contest was the toughest. It was so tight because of the quality of the work performed by the various teams in order to reach the final. It shows how with focused enthusiasm, even in a short time, students can give great results.
Many students want the reasons for losing and winning to be spelled out clearly to bring transparency in the contest. It will also give them an opportunity to improve upon their work. Do you want to address these concerns in the next contest?
See, the decision is taken by an independent jury of experts from the aviation industry. They have their logic to judge the quality of ideas. However, we can consider if it’s feasible for us to do in the next contests.
Only a team of three or more students can apply for the contest. So, an individual innovator has to make a team to participate in the contest. Why?
When an individual innovator applies for the contest with his proposal, Airbus helps him build a team by various ways such as putting his work on a social networking site, getting him to interact with individuals who have sent somewhat similar proposals, etc. It’s very important to see how we can help deliver to the target by working as team members supporting each other. I don’t know everything, you don’t know everything in our jobs, so how can we succeed and help deliver to the target is by working as a team, by understanding who can support me, who has the knowledge by putting together various angles, diversities, various methods and knowledge. With innovations, one of the biggest challenges today is working as a team in a diverse atmosphere.