Airbus chief technology officer (CTO) Grazia Vittadini has urged the aviation world to explore new fields including AI and quantum computing in a bid to create a climate-neutral industry, writes Claudia Glover for CBR.

Speaking at an International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA) event, Vittadini said: “As aerospace professionals we all know there is no one single solution to the climate change problem.

“We need to push aerodynamic structures and smart materials. We need alternative fuels and alternative propulsion using hydrogen in the equation or hydro-electric configuration. We need to push for automated air traffic management and explore new fields like AI and quantum computing, which are enablers for these very ambitious targets.”

And to get to this point, the industry needs to become much more diverse she said, adding that her dream of becoming a pilot in the Italian air force took a hit when “I was rejected on the grounds that I am a woman”. She added that she then paid for a pilot’s licence with her first salary as an engineer.

“It is no secret that the aerospace sector is not exactly diverse when it comes to gender,” said the CTO, who sits on the Airbus executive leadership. “It is a systemic issue in all engineering-based companies and it will be a long-term effort (to address it).”

Returning to a theme of climate change, Vittadini said that sustainability was good business.

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“There is no profit without climate protection,” she said. “Preserving our planet is not a nice add-on cherry on the cake that we may choose if we can afford; this is the prerequisite to the future of aviation, ecologically and economically.

“The coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly increased this global awareness of how dependent we are on a healthy environment; this is also why in Europe, economic stimulus plans are coming with a lot of green strings attached.”

She added that Airbus was working on a range of emerging technologies to improve safety, including “self-disinfecting” coatings for plane interiors.

Grazia Vittadini became the CTO of the European aerospace giant in 2017, having been with the company since 2002, bringing with her engineering and industrial expertise gained on the Italian side of the Eurofighter project. Among other roles, Vittadini, an experienced engineer, headed up airframe design at the multinational before being appointed CTO.

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