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UJ: Driving aviation safety in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In one of the deadliest aviation accidents in recent times, the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed a few weeks ago — just eight minutes after taking off, killing all 157 people on board.


Modern aircraft engines are an exponent of what digitalisation and the Internet of Things could furnish, as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in the aviation industry. This new era has the potential to improve air transport key performance areas. Particularly, in an industry where safety levels are so high and the margins for improvement are extremely tight, this era might imply a shift in safety improvement.

These were the sentiments shared by UJ’s Vice-Chancellor & Principal, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala on Tuesday, 09 April 2019, at the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) under the theme ‘When Robots Become Unstable: The Ethiopian Boeing 737 Max crash”.

Says Prof Marwala, “We need to study and understand the complexity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including all its downsides. Secondly, we need to guard against the toxic influence of politics, economics and lobbying to ensure that we ensure safety even at the expense of profit maximisation. Thirdly, we need to capacitate our universities so that they have the necessary resources to teach complex and evolving subjects such as control systems, which are still stuck in the Third Industrial Revolution paradigm while the world is firmly moving into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Prof Marwala suggests researchers still need to develop robust methods that will make intelligent systems stable and avoid disasters such as those seen in the Boeing 737 Max 8. “What are African universities doing to create a cadre of graduates that are able to understand complex technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence and control systems?”


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