1024 Aviation and Climate Change: Facilitating Challenging Conversations for Aviation Management and Professional Pilot Students

Wednesday, 10 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Victoria N Thorpe, Interamerican Univ. of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, Puerto Rico

When ‘Aviation and Climate Change’ are mentioned in the same sentence, it is usually to highlight the impact of aviation on the acceleration of climate change. This is to be expected, as the industry is accountable for a significant 2% of global carbon emissions each year (ICAO, 2010). Moreover, the aviation industry’s significant contribution to global human connectivity will inevitably result in its growth in coming decades. The topic of climate change is therefore a challenging one for aviation industry professionals, and especially so for those with a climate conscience. It is therefore important that undergraduate students in professional pilot and aviation management programs are encouraged to discuss their future operational environment. Firstly, it is imperative that a modern university education challenges this generation of students to think critically about the aviation industry’s contribution to climate change. By ensuring that our graduates are informed global citizens, they are more likely to support programs as industry participants and future leaders that reduce or mitigate the impact of aviation on climate change. Secondly, as operators that will be on the frontline for maintaining flight safety in a changing world, it is also pertinent that students are encouraged to analyse the impact that climate change will have upon aviation during their careers. These impacts include but are not limited to:

- problems with increasing temperatures leading to density altitude changes that will affect runway lengths, cargo capacity and aircraft performance guidelines,

- likely increases in Clear Air Turbulence affecting passengers en route,

- increases in extreme precipitation events and storm intensities affecting airport operability and air route viability,

- changes to the jetstreams affecting long-haul routes and flight times,

- and coastal flooding; Eurocontrol in 2010 assessed that 34 airports in Europe alone are vulnerable to flooding.

In accordance with this conference’s theme of ‘Transforming Communication’, this presentation will therefore demonstrate how I am opening dialogues between students and faculty at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, School of Aeronautics, regarding the significance of aviation to climate change and vice versa. In summer 2017 I upgraded a pre-existing well-established course on Aviation Meteorology to include an additional 16-week program of ‘Climate-focussed’ classes. This program is designed to develop enquiry and promote discussions about the unfortunate synergic relationship between aviation and climate change. This program supplements without detriment the pre-existing, purely meteorologically-focussed, syllabus. As the School of Aeronautics is a minority-serving institution, the course upgrade is also designed to support the AMS’s Climate Diversity Program.

To transform the students’ approach to communicating about climate science, the course is dynamic and interactive. It includes computer laboratories to explore climate science theory and historic evidence for climate change, classroom discussions, group and personal research, and presentations. Students are exposed to evidence and research from around the globe, as their careers as aviators will likely take them abroad. However, to also underscore the importance of a personal appreciation of the likely impact of climate change, students are challenged to explore the current and likely future impact of climate change on aviation facilities and localities in Puerto Rico. Student-led poster presentations on areas of research pertinent to the impact of climate change on aviation are also an assessed element of the course. I anticipate highlighting some of this research from the August-December 2017 semester during my presentation, using PowerPoint to showcase the students’ findings and reflections. By challenging students to analyse future risks, threats and opportunities, the course is designed to encourage them to develop a greater appreciation of climate change as they go forward into their respective aviation-related careers.

During this presentation, I will initially explain the imperative for this education initiative at university-level aviation institutions. I will describe how I have attempted to raise awareness at our institution regarding the future challenges our students will face: their role in both contributing to climate change, and managing and mitigating the effects of climate change. I will also underscore any highlights of the course and any challenges I encountered introducing this new module. I will finally highlight any improvements I will be making to ensure that both I and my students communicate more effectively the following semester. I will conclude that to prepare a modern aviation management or professional pilot student for their future operating environment, it is essential that higher education creates opportunities to have difficult conversations about the future of our world and our roles in it.

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