Aeronautical engineering is associated with creation and maintenance of aircraft which travels inside the earth’s atmosphere whereas aerospace engineering deals with creation and maintenance of aircraft or spacecraft, which can travel either inside earth’s atmosphere or outside the atmosphere of the earth. Although the term Aeronautical Engineering is new to Sri Lankan society, it is [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Aeronautical Education and Research at the University of Moratuwa


Aeronautical engineering is associated with creation and maintenance of aircraft which travels inside the earth’s atmosphere whereas aerospace engineering deals with creation and maintenance of aircraft or spacecraft, which can travel either inside earth’s atmosphere or outside the atmosphere of the earth. Although the term Aeronautical Engineering is new to Sri Lankan society, it is growing in-line with the country’s expanding air transport sector, as well as the increase in industry-related professionals. Amongst all the courses in engineering, aeronautical engineering is a niche field and is only available in a few reputed universities in the world. The course content is specialised and therefore the fee is slightly higher than other courses.

As a result of high demand for aeronautical engineering courses, for the first time in the state university sector, the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the University of Moratuwa added “Aviation” to the B.Sc. Engineering degree programme in 2013, introducing a new course module titled “Aircraft Technology”. This module covers aircraft structures and systems, advanced materials and manufacturing processes, aero-engines, aircraft assembly technology, aircraft maintenance and state-of-the-art aircraft related research. During this course module, small student groups are formed to explore modern advances in aircraft technology and enable them to critically analyse real world problems and proposed potential solutions to overcome them. I would like to acknowledge SriLankan Airlines for giving us an opportunity to visit their workshops to get practical exposure and support for the success of this module. Before starting this module, some students went abroad without enrolling in state universities since they desperately wanted to study for a degree in Aeronautics. Over the last three years, I have noticed that the demand for this module is steadily increasing while feedback received from students is also encouraging.

Since the Department of Mechanical Engineering has understood the importance of aeronautical engineering, we have started to expand the module into the “Aeronautics” stream. The “Aeronautics” curriculum is closely mapped to the needs and demands of the aviation/aerospace industry and general education guidelines. Students will be exposed to a multi-disciplinary programme with courses of study in aircraft design, materials and manufacturing, security, aviation safety, avionics, aerodynamics, occupational safety and health, aero engines and aircraft maintenance. Within that broad base, compulsory and elective modules allow students to tailor particular interests and career goals. The first group of students to follow the aeronautical stream is scheduled to start in the 2015 intake.

Aeronautical engineering has become a highly paid and prestigious career option. Although the salary of most aeronautical engineers depends on their academic excellence and individual skills, the average beginners’ pay in this field is much higher than other engineering fields. Aeronautical engineers have a range of job options available to them in the aviation, aeronautical and defence industries. There is a huge need for aeronautical engineers in airlines, aircraft manufacturing units, air turbine production plants and design development programmes for the aviation industry. In fact, there are immense opportunities for those who wish to work abroad.

I have over six years of post-doctoral research into the application of automation to aircraft and aero-engine structural assembly. During this time I have worked with most of the world’s leading aerospace companies including Airbus, Rolls Royce, Bombardier Aerospace and Volvo Aero Corporation. I would like to share my past research experience with university students and professionals to establish research culture. Some of the aeronautical research carried out at the Department of Mechanical engineering, University of Moratuwa is listed below:

Design and Development of a Novel Re-Configurable Fixturing System Modern aerospace industry is continuously seeking new technologies due to potential increase in demand for new aircrafts, which are to be produced on a single production line while reducing model changeover times and improving quality of the assembly process. In mass volume production, this can be achieved by fixing a large number of similar components using special-purpose jigs and fixtures. In low volume production, improvement of re-configurable fixturing systems becomes a favourable way to reduce the cost of production per unit. A re-configurable fixturing system consists of standard components that can be used to satisfy different fixturing requirements. These fixtures are reusable and this enhances their flexibility and reduces the time and cost of development. It also offers the benefit of eliminating the need for dedicated tooling, dedicated fixturing, associated storage and floor space. Re-configurable fixturing also provide rapid response to engineering and production changes, system expandability, and considerable reduction in set-up time. In this research, a novel concept of re-configurable fixturing system was developed and validated using a fully functional small scale prototype made out of standard parts that are widely available in the market. The developed system can be easily applied to other industries due to its flexibility and re-configurability.

Re-configurable Supporting Structures for Aircraft Industry Aircraft industry is continuously seeking new technologies due to the competitive market and high demand. During maintenance and manufacturing practices, dedicated supporting structures are used to handle large parts of aircrafts with varying sizes. Manufacturing of supporting structures is expensive and requires long manufacturing lead time along with a skilled work force. This research investigates state-of- the art aircraft technology and is currently used in supporting structures for aircraft assembly and maintenance processes. New design concept models for different reconfigurable supporting structures were developed using three dimensional Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. By comparing and contrasting each design concept for their strengths and weakness, it can manufacture best suited design concepts. Finite element software is used to further analyse for stress, deformation and buckling for proposed designs.

A Flexible Fixturing System for Handling Irregular Shaped Components for the manufacturing industry is a rapid developing area and requires new technologies and concepts to increase the profit margin through higher production rates and higher quality. To have a sufficient and higher production rate there should be competent fixturing systems, because fixtures perform major tasks such as locating, holding and supporting components during manufacturing processes. Due to the large variety of the components manufactured in this industry, the fixture systems differ from one to the other. Therefore dedicated fixtures are widely used in the industry. These fixtures require huge spaces and long manufacturing lead times, and are inflexible to design changes. These problems increase the overall cost and slow down production. A re-configurable or modular fixture can be introduced as a single fixture for a set of components. Although it reduces the number of fixtures, it leads to other issues such as a high knowledge and skill requirement to change the set-up, and is non-adaptability with robot cells and flexible manufacturing systems because of increased human involvement. Flexible fixtures can be used to minimise the problems associated with irregular shaped components.

(The writer is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He earned his PhD from University of Nottingham, UK, in 2006. He is a registered Chartered Engineer in the UK and a Senior Member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, USA. He can be contacted via or

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