Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Aeronautics: First of its kind in Canada

Science Aeronautics, Graphic by Heather Ecobichon

The Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA) has officially become Canada’s first research institute focused on making air transport more sustainable, following its launch on Oct. 5. 

The virtual launch featured a panel discussion about WISA and its impending impact on the future of sustainability in the aeronautics industry. The panel included Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, director of WISA Suzanne Kearns, Dean of Engineering Mary Wells and Thomas Lagaillarde from the Airbus software company, NAVBLUE.

The aeronautics industry faced many challenges and hardships as a result of the pandemic which began in March of 2020. Many of Kearns’ former students also lost their jobs. After considering the effects of the pandemic and prior existing issues like global personnel shortages and increasing environmental impacts, Kearns felt like they could service the industry through driving innovation and research. 

The institute is set to bring together the work of 50 researchers from all six faculties at the University of Waterloo, with guidance from an advisory committee that includes Chris Hadfield. Kearns explained how the institute’s research will be geared toward overcoming industry challenges related to the three pillars of sustainability — social, environmental and economic. Therefore, Kearns will be working with three associate directors — Elizabeth Irving who will be focused on social sustainability, Paul Parker who will be in charge of environmental sustainability and Shi Cao who will be leading economic sustainability. 

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, airline emissions are responsible for more than three per cent of total emissions in Canada. In addition, airline flying is increasing by five per cent a year but efficiency improvements have only increased by less than two per cent. WISA aims to build a more sustainable future by facilitating partnerships with industry, government and academia to drive innovation and research. 

“The unique value that WISA offers is an ability to listen and learn from industry,” said Kearns at the panel discussion. “We don’t want to produce solutions that are looking for problems. We want to understand the most pressing problems and work collaboratively to create evidence-based solutions.”