In this article, we shine the spotlight on Yvonne Elsorougi, one of the most highly regarded aerospace sector specialists in the UK and South West region.
What is your role?
I am an independent aerospace sector specialist, supporting projects which aim to improve the competitiveness and productivity of the aerospace sector, particularly driving innovation. I work with a broad range of stakeholders, including industry representatives, local governments, universities and other partners.
What is your background?
Unusually for someone who works within aerospace, I am not an engineer. I have however, now worked in the industry for over 25 years. I started my career working at Dublin Airport, subsequently gaining industrial experience in the aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector. Following this I worked in a university setting, undertaking applied research. This involved working directly with the UK aerospace industry as it adopted lean manufacturing from the automotive sector, as well as working on a large European project in the area of flight safety and human factors. I then moved into the public sector where I mainly supported government funded aerospace programmes. The majority of work involved securing funding for large scale collaborative research and development programs in the UK, and taking forward major projects in new growth areas such as unmanned air vehicles, composite manufacturing and environmentally-friendly engines.
How did you get into this area?
When I was studying, aerospace wasn’t on my career path. I graduated with a business degree before starting work at Dublin Airport. It was there that I really fell in love with aviation and all things related to it. From then on it became a theme throughout my career. I’ve worked in industry, academia and government. I am now working for myself, bringing together all these different perspectives. During my career, I have worked in many different areas, from business development and marketing to research project management, yet aerospace has always been the constant thread. As I didn’t have an engineering background I undertook the Continuing Professional Development in Aerospace (CPDA), a multidisciplinary aerospace programme. As far as I am aware, I am the only non-engineer ever to be admitted to the programme and to complete it, gaining an MSc degree to complement my other qualifications. In 2010, I was awarded a fellowship from the Royal Aeronautical Society for the contribution I had made to the aerospace industry over the years, at a time when only 1% of the Fellows were female. I continue to be active on several of the Society’s national committees.
Looking back on your career, what area did you most enjoy?
The most interesting aspect for me is being part of collaborative, large scale projects which are helping to lay the foundations for the future through the development of amazing technologies and new ways of working. It has been enjoyable to work with all sorts of different people, companies and organisations, coming together to bring projects forward. It is particularly satisfying to see the technologies developed in research projects starting to be used in real applications, years after the project began. Being able to see the projects I was involved in during the preliminary stages progressing to deliver a significant impact further down the line is a privilege.
Can you predict any trends for the aerospace industry?
A key driver at the moment is the adoption of disruptive and digital technologies which will lead to disruptive and radical changes to the future of aerospace and air transport. Realistically we will probably see significant changes after 2030; however, a lot of the basic work is starting now. Technologies such as autonomy and robotics combined data analytics, advanced design and simulation are coming together to revolutionise the sector. We are now on the cusp of a new generation of aerospace where the shape of aircraft is likely to change significantly. In particular, this will be driven by the ambitions to create all-electric aircraft with electric propulsion. These technological changes will in turn lead to wider changes, changing how people travel, how aircraft will be used and what future airports will look like. Finally, the passenger experience is also going to change, especially with entrepreneurial companies driving ideas like space flight. For example, there are a lot of interesting activities going on around Newquay Airport and its potential to be one of the UK’s first spaceports.
Harnessing the energy of the aerospace and advanced engineering, high-tech and digital communities, will genuinely transform people’s lives. Here in the South West, we are really at the forefront of a lot of the futuristic developments in aerospace. Having the privilege of working here, in this area, at this particular point in time, is just fantastic.
What advice would you give to younger people interested in this area?
My advice is to follow your interests but to keep an open mind. There are lots of routes to getting to where you want to go and it’s good to be take every opportunity along the way. Personally, I didn’t follow the normal career path, I didn’t do the expected things and I never trained as an engineer. Yet, I have worked in the sector for many years and had fantastic experiences during this time. Get involved in areas that interest you and consider all roles and qualifications that will take you nearer to your ultimate goal. Most importantly, start networking - attend events, sit on committees and get involved with organisations and people who are connected, already working in the sector and in the roles you aspire to.
If you were stranded on a desert island and you were granted three items, what would those items be?
My favourite book is Jonathan Livingston Seagull so that would be my number one. I would also want a friendly cat with me and some nice Belgian chocolates to keep me going!