Profile: New Head of the School of Aviation

Professor Gabriel Lodewijks, new Head of the UNSW School of Aviation
Thursday, 9 February, 2017
Deborah Smith

Gabriel Lodewijks brings extensive expertise in transport engineering and logistics, big ideas about the aviation industry, and a love of Sydney to his new role in the Faculty.

Professor Lodewijks, a former Vice-Dean at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, was appointed to UNSW Science following an international search last year and took over the leadership of the School of Aviation from Professor Jason Middleton on 1 February.

During the past 16 years, as Professor of Transport Engineering and Logistics at Delft, he has worked on many aviation-related problems, including optimisation of aircraft maintenance schedules, security issues at airports, and how to improve the experience of airline passengers.

He was also scientific director of the university's Centre of Aviation. And between 2007 and 2010, he was Chief Technology Officer of the Schiphol Group, which operates airports around the world.

Despite arriving at UNSW in the middle of a heatwave, the Dutch-born mechanical engineer says he is delighted to finally have the chance to live and work in Sydney.

“I have three favourite cities in the world - Vancouver, Cape Town and Sydney,” he says. “I lived close to Vancouver for four years. It’s beautiful. And my wife is from South Africa, so I have visited Cape Town many, many times.

“What all three cities have in common is that they are next to the ocean, have mountains nearby and you can normally enjoy the sunshine.”

While not a pilot, he jokes that he has probably spent as many hours in the air as one, travelling around the globe, which has allowed him to observe the many changes in the aviation industry over the years.

“One of the most important changes is the arrival of low cost carriers,” he says. “There are a lot more people flying now than 10 year ago. And it will also be interesting to see what impact low cost carriers are going to have on long haul travelling.

“And security, of course, is much tighter today.  A lot of the developments we are seeing in aviation are to try and ease that process and make it less of a hassle to get on a plane.”

Having first visited Sydney in 1995, he thinks Australia could learn from European airports. “One of the things I find annoying in Sydney is that the domestic and international terminals are still separated, which means that international passengers flying to another Australian domestic airport have to pick up luggage, get it cleared and check it in again.

“From the airport’s or airline’s point of view, that’s fantastic because, as a passenger, you are responsible for dealing with your luggage. But for that passenger, that’s not very nice,” he says.

Other ways the aviation industry could improve their business would be through better collection and integration of information about passengers.

Suitcases, for example, are weighed during check-in to see if any extra money needs to be paid by passengers, he says:  “But that information is then lost. It is not stored anywhere, yet it could be useful for improving automated  baggage handling.”

Professor Middleton was pivotal in establishing and leading the School of Aviation at UNSW, which admitted its first 11 students in 1995. Today the School teaches about 350 equivalent full-time students and is recognised as a leading educator of aviation management and flying in the region.

Professor Middleton will not retire until the middle of the year, allowing a period of handover with the new head of school. While it is still early days in the job, Professor Lodewijks says one of his plans is to strengthen interactions between the flying operations at Bankstown Airport and the academic activities on campus.

Professor Lodewijks completed his PhD on the dynamics of belt systems, such as moving walkways and escalators, in 1996.

After a period working in the US, he joined Delft University in 2000. He was Head of the Department of Marine and Transport Technology for 13 years, as well as Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering between 2011 and 2015.

He also has visiting professorships at the University of Witwatersrand  in South Africa;  Wuhan University of Technology, Beijing University of Science and Technology, and China University of Mining and Technology, all in China; and Newcastle University in NSW.

His transport research interests cover many areas including:

Optimisation of maintenance, repair and overhaul processes

Automation of air cargo handling systems

Improvement of the quality of the flower supply chain handled through air cargo

Tracking and tracing of equipment, components and people at airports and in aviation-related companies

Optimisation of gate processes and baggage-handling procedures to reduce the turn-around time of aircraft

Maintaining safety and security in airport logistic processes

Improvement of passenger experience by streamlining airport logistics

UNSW Science media contact: Deborah Smith: 9385 7307, 0478 492 060,