HKU mechanical engineering students head to France as Airbus Fly Your Ideas 2017 competition finalists

HKU mechanical engineering students head to France as Airbus Fly Your Ideas 2017 competition finalists

Four mechanical engineering students from HKU are heading to Toulouse, in France, to compete in the final round of a student design challenge for Airbus

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With the help of mechanical engineering lecturer Dr Edwin Chan Chi-keung (front row left), Darwing Li, Stewart Leung (front row right), (second row from left) Leo Lo and Hayden Li made it to France.
Photo: Xiaomei Chen/SCMP

Whoever said: “getting there is half the fun” never had to take a long-haul flight on a jam packed plane. With so many passengers boarding, it can take forever to get to your seat, and when you finally do there might not be any space to store your bag in the overhead compartment.

But hassles like these could be solved in the future, thanks to an idea proposed by DAELead, a team of students from the University of Hong Kong. Darwing Li Kin-wing, Leo Lo Kwun-yu, Hayden Li Hean-ting and Stewart Leung Shu-wai – all third year mechanical engineering students – are finalists in the Airbus Fly Your Ideas 2017 student competition. The event challenges students around the globe to improve different areas of air travel. 

Aiming to improve passenger experience, the team did from HKU did some onsite research to come up with new processes or layouts to ease passenger boarding and disembarking, while increasing capacity for luggage. 

“We got on flights and took videos to find out what causes the delays in boarding,” says Lo. They found one of the main issues is that passengers take a lot of time looking for a space for their luggage, which means it takes a long time for the aisles to be cleared.


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Their solution? A private stowage compartment (PSC) that flips up from the floor under the seat in front of you.

“If passengers have only a handbag or backpack, they can go straight to their seats and place it under their feet,” explains Lo. They also introduced a dual locking system so the compartment wouldn’t open in case of emergencies.

The PSC would give passengers a more pleasant journey, as they wouldn’t have to stretch reach the overhead bins, and someone sitting in a window seat wouldn’t have to crawl over two other passengers to get something out of their bag.

The team found their inspiration when Darwing Li visited a hangar during his winter internship, and saw a plane undergoing some extreme maintenance. “They had removed the floor under the seats, and it turns out there’s plenty of space underneath, so I thought why not make use of the space?” Darwing Li says.

Using a a pushrod system, the students transformed the space between the floor beams into a PSC. With a single push of a button, the floor flips open to reveal the storage space, and once items are stowed, it flips back down again so that you don’t lose any legroom.


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“This concept is used everywhere, from homes to car boots,” says Leung. “We just put it on a plane.”

This innovation could create 53 per cent more space for carry-on luggage, and reduce a flight’s boarding time by almost three minutes. That might not sound like much, but that could add up to a US$30,000 savings in ground costs each year for a plane – a huge economic benefit for airlines.

“Every minute an airline has a plane on the ground, it’s losing money,” says Hayden Li, who also looks at it from an environmental standing point. “While on the ground, the plane relies on a generator for power. That produces emissions, so a shorter time [on the ground] is better for the environment.”

To stand out from 356 ideas submitted from around the world, the HKU team decided tto take their idea a step further.

“We wanted to give it our best shot,” says Lo. “So aside from [the required] poster, video and report, we knew we needed something more convincing and more promising.”

Photo: DAELead

They decided to build a prototype, using the workshop in the university. After purchasing wood and tools from an off-campus shop, the building part was easy for these future mechanical engineers. 

“We had to look through regulations and restrictions and test different designs to make sure we don’t violate any regulations,” Lo says of the biggest challenge they faced.

“Aviation has international standard requirements,” explains Hayden Li, using a non-smoking sticker on the bathroom door as an example. “Font and sizing of the sticker needs to be standardised and approved by the civil aviation department.”

Lo believes that their prototype showed that their PSC is a “convincing, feasible and useful” product, and helped get them into the finals – the only Hong Kong team to reach the top five.

“The prototype we have is made of wood, but now we need to build one with materials that are actually used in planes to show how our idea can work in a real situation,” says Lo.


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Tomorrow DAELead will join the other finalists in Toulouse, at Airbus’ headquarters in France, to compete for the $US30,000 prize. They’ll spend the week testing their ideas and building a new prototype using state-of-the art equipment with personalised guidance from Airbus.

Young Post wishes them bon voyage and good luck!

The students are one step closer to becoming aviation experts, something they hope will help them in their careers, as all four students are aviation fans eager to make changes in the industry.

“I believe that most boys have a dream to fly, and I was no exception,” says Leung, who says he hopes to design new planes in the future.

“Getting into the industry is hard in Hong Kong, there’s only so few airlines,” says Lo. “We hope to use this opportunity to gain more experience, and to take what we have learned in university and apply it to real life cases.”

Edited by Sam Gusway

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Building a better aircraft

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