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Difficult future for aviation without collaboration, argues Leeds professor

The huge gulf between environmental campaigners and the aviation industry needs to be bridged for air travel to have a future, says William Gale, recently appointed Professor at Leeds University.

In his inaugural lecture on December 16 - An interdisciplinary approach to sustainable aviation - Professor Gale, recently appointed Professor of Aviation and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Leeds, will argue that the research community provides the best hope for bringing the aviation and environmental camps together and that collaboration is the most likely way to ensure air travel has a sustainable future.

The lecture is timely, coming in the same month the transport secretary Geoff Hoon announced a further delay in the decision on Heathrow's third runway and environmental campaigners were protesting against a ten percent increase in flight capacity at Stansted.

"The word 'sustainable' is tricky in itself," says Professor Gale. "To an environmentalist, it's about climate change and the planet, but to an airline, especially in the current economic conditions, it literally means staying in business. But bring these people together and you find at least some of their views aren't necessarily mutually exclusive: they will have more in common than they realise.  Aviation can be made more sustainable, but to succeed this needs to be addressed in a way that makes sense to all of the major stakeholders."

Professor Gale will draw on his experience in the United States, where he helped to bridge a similar gap between the public health community, the military and the aviation industry following both the SARS outbreak and the use of Anthrax as a terrorist weapon, in his role as Executive Director of the US Federal Aviation Administration-funded Center of Excellence for Airliner Cabin Environment Research (ACER).

"SARS spread so rapidly around the world, it was a wake-up call," explains Professor Gale. "The public health community realised that, if we were faced again with a flu pandemic as happened in 1918 and 19, the spread of this by aviation could easily cause us to rapidly lose control. Early intervention would be vital, and that requires agreed procedures for all those involved."

But the different stakeholders often had little or no previous contact and generally lacked understanding of each other's priorities and needs. "We used a variety of approaches to help them talk to each other and find a common language," recalls Professor Gale. "Without this, one camp might develop a technology that would do a certain job, such as decontaminate an aircraft, but it might not be appropriate in a civilian context or affordable for industry to implement."

He is convinced the same approach used at ACER for the health of passengers and crews will work for wider environmental issues. "You need different perspectives and different disciplines to work together, to reach common solutions that respond to everyone's needs. An interdisciplinary approach is common within the research community yet relatively rare in the aviation industry, but it's likely to be the fastest and most effective way to find feasible solutions to the problems facing aviation."

It's an approach that Professor Gale will be putting into effect in his new role. A graduate of the University, he has returned to Leeds to take on the directorship of the Earth, Energy, Environment Institute (E3), which brings together environmental scientists, engineers and a variety of other disciplines to carry out interdisciplinary research. "Leeds is able to build an institute of this kind because it has such breadth and depth of expertise in different fields and a history of collaborative activities," says Professor Gale. "The Institute will seek to strengthen existing collaborations and build exciting new ones on many key environmental issues related to energy, but aviation and energy materials- which are my own research areas  - will be important parts of this."

Professor Gale's lecture is the final part of a day of workshops entitled Technology Challenges for a Sustainable Future, hosted by the University's School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME). The event is the first of a series of workshops bringing together industrialists and researchers to discuss major global challenges.

For further information: 

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

Notes to editors:

William Gale is Professor of Aviation and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering (SPEME), part of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Leeds. He is also Director of Interdisciplinary Research and Director of the Earth, Energy and Environment University Interdisciplinary Institute (E3).

Professor Gale graduated in 1986 from the University of Leeds, with a BEng in Metallurgy and moved to Auburn University in the USA in 1992, following a PhD in Materials Science and Metallurgy and postdoctoral work at the University of Cambridge. In 2004, Professor Gale formed ACER, which conducts an integrated research and development programme on the health, safety and homeland security aspects of the airliner cabin environment. ACER has seven university partners, including Harvard, Purdue and the University of California Berkeley, and over 40 industrial partners, including Boeing, Delta Air Lines, General Electric, United Technologies and Honeywell. Professor Gale was executive director of ACER from 2004 to 2008 and in 2007, he led the expansion of ACER's scope to other transportation modes, including mass transit.

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