Prof. Richard (Ricky) Curran.
Full professor of Air Transport & Operations (ATO), as well as, among other things, being a member of the scientific committee for Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), whose objective it is to optimise European aviation in relation to capacity, costs, security and environmental effects.
Your private life?
‘I was born in Warringstown (Northern Ireland). I'm married to Anita Hisschemöller, who is a yoga teacher. We met each other in Spain, but we also lived in Nepal for a year, where Anita worked on her anthropology thesis. We stayed in a small village in the Mustang Valley, at an altitude of 4,000 metres. An amazing experience! Together we have three children: two sons, Woody (14) and Kolya (11) and a daughter, Layla (8). All three were born in Northern Ireland, but we've enjoyed living in Delft since 2008. I really love the historical city centre, the quality emanating from the city and the sociable atmosphere. Living here is just perfect.’
What is your favourite pastime?
‘Music is my great passion. I'm the singer and guitarist in the band Doc. Curran & the Revelators. We play mostly blues and rock and often perform in the faculty, at the traditional Christmas party, for example, and recently also at the annual Design Synthesis Exercise (DSE). We practise every week and also perform in bars and clubs. I'm also passionate about real Indian food and I enjoy cycling, canoeing, running and travelling with my family. My favourite place is in the mountains, where I really feel at home. As a child, I was always going camping and climbing in the mountains. My fascination with mountains has even taken me to the Himalayas. Something else that draws me to countries such as Tibet, Nepal and India is the culture, which is so energetic and bustling with life. And not to forget the phenomenal historical buildings like the Taj Mahal and the international mix of religions. I love things that are different. More of the same is lost on me.’
Your career in brief?
‘After obtaining my Mechanical Engineering degree in Belfast I worked for one year for a solar-energy company in Spain. Then I spent a year travelling in India and Nepal. On my return, I carried out my PhD research into ocean-wave energy at Queen’s University in Belfast. This was followed by two years of post-doctoral work before moving to Delft, where I worked for eight months with a grant from the Royal Society with Professor Alan Rothwell. After another year in Nepal together with my wife, I got a job with Aerospace Engineering in Belfast as a post-doctoral researcher. Later on I became a member of staff there. In 2008 I was appointed full-time professor of Aerospace Management & Operations, called ATO since 2010. We focus on Airlines, Air Traffic Management and airports, together with the associated issues such as noise pollution, emissions, capacity, costs, safety and efficiency. Meanwhile, our group has become one of the biggest Master's programmes, with two full-time professors, one visiting professor from the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), 11 full-time academic staff members, 20 PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers and some 40 Master's students a year.’
What has been the high point of your career?
‘Last June, the third Air Transport and Operations Symposium (ATOS) took place. That's my brainchild and it's nice to see how that has developed into an international event, which the big airline companies also contribute to. This year, the central question was how to realise sustainable progress for the aviation industry. Another highlight was the publication of the fourth edition of our Journal of Aerospace Operations (JAO). This scientific journal examines the aerospace engineering business from the perspective of aviation companies, airports and aircraft manufacturers. We hope that JAO will be added to the list of recognised-ISI scientific journals. I'm also extremely pleased with the collaboration within the industry. For example, my chair is largely sponsored by KLM. And practically all of our research is applied, which means that it's actually utilised in practice. To me that is quite a fundamental value.’
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work?
‘Working with research students, both PhD and Master's students. I try to help them to be as innovative as possible. That requires creativity: you constantly have to search for new methods and new hypotheses. I put a lot of time and energy in that educational role. I also really enjoy the collaboration with other members of staff. We attempt to solve complex issues through our collective expertise. Spending time with other members of the group and faculty is also something I like. It's very important to enjoy yourself, which is why I really like performing with our band. “Enjoy your life” is what I always say.’
Your greatest challenge at the moment?
‘Getting the multiple parties concerned within aviation to integrate with each other. The usefulness of the entire system must take precedence over self-interest. The focus should be on an integrated perspective on the value system of air transport. This concerns the right mixture of costs, capacity, safety and the environment. The key question is how these performance indicators can best be met, which is why we're developing and devising methods, tools and models. I really enjoy this kind of reflection at system level. For me, engineering is the utilisation of scientific principles to find solutions that improve the quality of life. My goal is to become one of the top three research groups in the world. Of course we have to overcome some hurdles, but we do have some trump cards, with top-level PhD candidates, JAO and collaboration with an international group of researchers. Finally, my personal challenge is to learn Dutch. I'm still working at it, because I do intend to remain in the Netherlands.’
‘I was already acquainted with Delft. Queen’s University in Belfast collaborates intensively with TU Delft. We already worked closely as part of the centre for integrated learning, where I was director, in such things as the supervision of PhD candidates and writing articles. I also have great memories of my time with Alan Rothwell. Moreover, TU Delft is one of the leading universities when it comes to aviation. TU Delft is the largest in Europe, with a huge amount of expertise and a strong international profile. My field of work is innovative, with many challenges, and there is plenty of space for that at TU Delft. And I also love the culture here, both in Delft and in the Netherlands, with such a history, quality and sociable atmosphere. The Dutch have a progressive attitude. That's something I can really appreciate.’
What is your best character trait?
‘I'd say openness and flexibility.’
What is your worst character trait?
‘I'm overambitious. That's not always helpful, because if you want to do something well, you shouldn't take too much on. I'm also a perennial optimist, especially when it comes to time. That's why my diary is often packed full to overflowing. Fortunately, my colleagues know how to keep me in check.’
What topic should be high on the political agenda?
‘Sustainability, when it concerns the quality of life, for example. That quality should be good, but not at the expense of Mother Earth. In fact, sustainability should cover all aspects, which also includes aviation. I think it's an extremely fascinating industry: it connects countries and cultures, and therefore you can learn from it as a person. According to the Chicago Convention signed in 1944, travel even makes the world a more peaceful place. We have to maintain this, but with the factors of costs, capacity, safety and environment in the right proportions. As academics we try to meet that challenge.’
Do you have a source of inspiration?
‘I already have an enormous drive, so I don't need any extra incentives. Although I am inspired by the beauty that I see in things everywhere. Music, for example, takes me to other, magical levels. And the same goes for art, looking at the sea or walking on a mountain. These things give me energy. My father was a great example for me: he was interested in all things technical and always wanted to know how things worked. That's something I recognise in myself.’