Learning to take flight at the Institute of Technology in Carlow
30 June 2015
Authors: Dr Donnacha Lowney and Brian McQuaid, School of Engineering, Institute of Technology, Carlow
Carlow has a long and proud tradition of innovation in the engineering sector. Notable engineers such as William Dargan, experimental physicists like John Tyndall and the aviation pioneer John Lecky all hail from Co Carlow and its hinterlands.
Dargan designed and built Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire in 1883; Tyndall made seminal discoveries in the application of infrared radiation to molecular physics; Lecky (shown in Figure 1) constructed and flew the first Wright type biplane in Ireland circa 1910/1911 at Ballykealey Manor, Ballon, Co Carlow.
Today, the aviation sector in Ireland is flourishing. In the next 20 years, the IDA predict in excess of US$5.2 trillion worth of new aircraft will be built globally with approximately 25 per cent of this financed by Irish aircraft leasing companies.
The aviation branch of the School of Engineering at Institute of Technology Carlow (IT Carlow) is uniquely positioned to contribute to the national and global economic recovery through its suite of ordinary and honours degree programmes in Aircraft Systems and Aerospace Engineering, Pilot Studies and Business Aviation, as well as special purpose awards in the area of Aircraft Acquisition and Finance.
This broad suite of courses makes IT Carlow innovative in its education opportunities and sets it apart from other national training providers. Graduates of all these programmes are employed as technicians, engineers and managers in aviation companies in Ireland and throughout the world.
Maintenance and Repair Organisation
Per sectorial norms, all our academic programmes are formally validated through the delegated authority invested in the Institute by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). To work in a commercial civilian aircraft Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) within Europe, a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Part 66 Aircraft Maintenance Licence (AML) is required.
Significantly, IT Carlow is an EASA Part 147 approved technical training school with specific approval from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) for EASA Part 66 Category A, B1.1 (Turbine), B1.2 (Piston) and B2 (Avionics) basic licences. The institute is currently seeking approval to expand this range by achieving the rotary wing, B3 basic licence.
Students enrolled on the B.Eng in Aircraft Systems simultaneously undertake a third-level qualification, while developing the practical and theoretical skills required of the EASA licensing process. As an example, in acquiring a B2 Avionics licence, students complete in excess of 2400 hours of study over the duration of the three-year programme; 50 per cent of the course is practical in nature in order to develop the specific hand skills demanded by the aircraft maintenance industry.
In addition, they must successfully pass the requisite EASA licence examinations and undertake 800 hours On the Job Training (OJT) in a Part 145 MRO. IT Carlow has partnered closely with several MROs across Europe to provide students with the relevant OJT. Upon completion of basic training, the institute’s Part 147 organisation then issues a Certificate of Recognition. Two years of additional experience in an MRO is required before the graduate can apply to the IAA for their B2 licence. Type ratings for aircraft such as Airbus or Boeing require additional specific training.
Satisfying the student demand for OJT in an EASA Part 145 MRO can be challenging for the most benign reason: when students are available for placement during the summer, heavy base maintenance is at a minimum, as this coincides with the peak flying season.
Recognising this difficulty, the institute has identified an opportunity to work with the IAA to create a ‘virtual’ Part 145 maintenance organisation to further enhance the facilities available to our students. This approval will ensure our students can simultaneously study for their engineering degree and satisfy their Part 66 OJT licence requirements.
Extending the hangar in the Centre for Aerospace Engineering
To enable the creation of a Part 145 organisation, the institute has recently invested more than €500,000 to extend the hangar in the Centre for Aerospace Engineering. The hangar is equipped with a fleet of aircraft including a Fouga Magister jet, Robinson helicopter and Cessna 335 twin piston engine aircraft. Maintenance activities in the hangar are supported by dedicated avionics and machine workshops. In the fabrication workshop, a Vans RV12 is under construction with the first test flight anticipated in 2016.
The Part 145 maintenance organisation is ‘virtual’ in the sense that students work on commercial aircraft retired from active service and the facility will not operate as a going concern. Thereafter, the organisation of the facility and all activities undertaken are completely equivalent to those of any other light aircraft MRO. Students are mentored in the work environment by a dedicated team of technical and lecturing staff, all of whom are qualified maintenance engineers and/or pilots.
Traditionally, the apprenticeship model has been followed to obtain a Part 66 AML. In terms of continuous professional development, the industry is starting to recognise and move towards the degree model in the formative process for an aircraft maintenance engineer, as evidenced by the panel discussions at the recent 61st European Aviation Maintenance Training Committee (EAMTC) meeting. The degree is a superset of the licensing requirements, with students gaining advanced theoretical and practical knowledge.
This trend is particularly strong in Asia. The B.Eng in Aircraft Systems programme is accredited with Engineers Ireland and the Royal Aeronautical Society. In this context, and by virtue of the international nature of the aviation sector, professional recognition offered by the Washington, Sydney and Dublin accords is important. Thus dual recognition of the Aircraft Systems degree programme by licensing authorities and professional bodies, coupled with our strategy to develop a simulated Part 145 organisation, sets the institute apart from other education providers.
Avionics Full Duplex Switched Ethernet
The B.Eng (Hons) in Aerospace Engineering covers the traditional aerospace subjects but has particular emphasis in the final year on UAV and avionic technologies. This is distinct from the more traditional approach that places emphasis on mechanical/structural topics. Avionic-specific embedded system design and networking systems, such as the Airbus proprietary Avionics Full Duplex Switched Ethernet (AFDX), are explored in depth.
The institute has identified a strong demand for skilled avionic personnel into the foreseeable future. An interesting aside to the legacy of John Lecky is the acquisition of the indigenous avionics company ACRA Control by the Curtiss Wright organisation, a direct desendant of the manufacturers of the Wright biplane, as flown by Lecky more than a century ago.
A core philosophy of the programme is Design, Build & Fly. Remotely piloted and autonomous vehicles (RPV/UAV) are developed, leveraging the research interests of academic members of staff who collaborate in this area with Cranfield University. Design, using industry standard tools such as CATIA, is augmented with computational fluid dynamics analysis using ANSYS Fluent and correlated to measurement in wind tunnel. The School of Engineering is collaborating with the IAA to establish a ‘drone corridor’ in the vicinity of the institute for controlled testing of these vehicles.
Airline Transport Pilots Licence
For the flight deck, the institute offers an ab-initio BSc (Honours) in Pilot Studies Degree that embeds an Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) qualification within the programme. This four-year academic programme is uniquely offered over three calendar years to enable the transition from student to first officer as quickly as possible.
What differentiates this programme to other academic offerings embracing pilot studies, is its structure as a technical programme, covering electronics, mechanics and other aviation technical related subjects, which provide the pilot with a more rounded understanding of the aircraft they are flying.
Recently, and following approaches from graduate ATPL pilots, the institute has developed and validated a BSc (Ordinary) degree in Pilot Studies which will be offered in a format that allows ATPL graduates complete the programme during the aviation low-season. There is strong demand for an academic progression route from ATPL personnel to help expand career options beyond the flight deck.
Whether a pilot or an aviation engineer, IT Carlow recognised that all graduates would benefit from a Bachelor of Business (Honours) degree that provides both business and specialist training for the aviation industry. This programme, which is approved by the Irish Aviation Authority, incorporates traditional business degree modules such as Management, Accountancy and Finance, Logistics and Project Management with specific aviation related subjects such as EU Aviation and Transport Policy, Human Factors in Aviation, Critical Incident Stress Management, Team Resource and Crew Resource Management.
The institute also recognised the high mobility of personnel working in the sector and created exit award opportunities for participants at each completed stage of the programme, with a Certificate, Higher Certificate and Ordinary Degree available. By providing the programme in block release format, rather than the traditional lifelong learning offering of a number of evenings per week, the institute accommodates the needs of a sector where routine is non-standard.
With fully accredited programme options from technician to engineer, business aviation to technical aircraft management, IT Carlow has proven its ability to meet the needs of the aviation sector and continues to evolve its academic offerings through its close contact with industry bodies and commercial organisations, as well as institute alumni. Aerospace innovation will continue in Carlow into the future. It is a befitting tribute to the memory of Ireland’s first aviator, John Lecky, to close by citing his family heraldic motto : “Always prepared, virtue endures beyond the grave.”
J. Smyth, “A last lingering look at the Leckys”, Ballon-Rathoe Chronicle, pp. 14-19, 2006.
The image of John Lecky and his biplane were kindly provided by Mrs Hope Norris, Ballon, Co Carlow. Mrs Mary Jordan, head of academic affairs, IT Carlow, provided the background material on the Lecky family