UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


The 2008 Boeing Shanghai Challenge


Innovations in aircraft design and materials have reduced drag and fuel consumption, and new scheduling and routing software have reduced flight times. Now the push is on to reduce the airlines’ carbon footprint through innovations in airline maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). The Boeing Co. and the Center for Logistics and Enterprise Development, a joint effort of UNC Kenan-Flagler and Tsinghua University, sponsored the 2008 Boeing Shanghai Challenge to reward green ideas in MRO presented by student teams from some of China’s top universities.

Noel Greis, director of the Center for Logistics and Digital Strategy at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the joint center’s co-director, along with Cai Linning from Tsinghua University, was one of 10 judges who reviewed the entries of the 15 teams, each composed of up to three students and a faculty adviser. The ideas ranged from software solutions that would reduce inventory to a plan to re-use airplane interiors for theme restaurants when the passenger planes are converted to cargo carriers.

“The competition stimulates new standards in environmentally progressive aviation in China,” Greis said.

Linning, who is wrapping up a year at the Kenan Institute as a visiting scholar, added, “The case is very timely because of China’s desire to minimize the environmental impact, the carbon footprint, across the aviation industry.”

The finalists presented their ideas to Boeing executives in early July. Winners were announced at a banquet in Beijing on July 9; the first-, second- and third-place teams brought home cash prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $750, respectively. The gold award winner was Northwest Polytechnical University for research on green disposal of aging aircraft. Wuhan University won the silver award for building an environmental and efficient MRO. The bronze went to Huazhong University of Science and Technology for improving the effectiveness of MRO.

Huazhong University of Science and Technology garnered a technical merit award for operations suggestions for aviation services based on critical chain theory. Tsinghua University’s green MRO design won an award for technical merit and another for creative merit with its environmentally progressive MRO operating system. Chinese media have shown significant interest in the competition.

“This is a major event for our new joint center with Tsinghua,” Greis said. “It also features our partnership with Boeing, one of the founding industry members of our new center.”

China’s air traffic volume is expected to grow 7.3 percent annually on average over the next 20 years, with a concomitant expansion of MRO services. Ideas from the competition may help set a new environmental standard in aviation MRO operations worldwide.