UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Boeing Shanghai Challenge rewards green ideas of student teams


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).

Boeing and the Research Center for Logistics and Economic Development, a joint effort of UNC 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, 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 were converted to cargo carriers.

“The competition stimulates new standards in environmentally progressive aviation in China,” Greis said. “The case is very timely because of China’s desire to minimize the environmental impact, the carbon footprint, across the aviation industry.”

Although UNC was invited to enter teams, the contest deadlines were more compatible with the Chinese academic year. The eight-week period the teams were given to come up with their ideas and defend them began as UNC’s classes were wrapping up and ended as students were beginning summer internships, with finals in between.

The finalists presented their ideas to Boeing executives. Winners will be announced at a banquet in Beijing on July 9, when the first-, second- and third-place teams will be awarded cash prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $750, respectively. An award will be given for technical merit and another for creative merit. Chinese media have shown significant interest in the competition.

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