The Michigan Engineer News Center

Air Serv and University of Michigan Partner to Improve Aerial Support in Humanitarian Aid

This is the first collaboration for Air Serv International, one of the world’s leading aviation service providers for humanitarian missions, and the University of Michigan’s Aerospace department, the fourth ranked undergraduate aerospace engineering program in the country. | Medium Read
IMAGE:  Logo(s) left to right: Michigan Sustainability Applications for Aerospace Vehicle Engineering (M-SAAVE), Air Serv International , and Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Flight Vehicle Institute

Air Serv International and the University of Michigan have entered into a groundbreaking partnership aimed to improve transportation logistics in field programs. This is the first collaboration for Air Serv International, one of the world’s leading aviation service providers for humanitarian missions, and the University of Michigan’s Aerospace department, the fourth ranked undergraduate aerospace engineering program in the country. The two entities are actively working to explore the impact and advantages of aerospace technology in humanitarian operations, and are engaging in a program to develop an unmanned aircraft designed specifically for this purpose. The U-M students and Air Serv will collaborate on the design specifications of the prototype vehicle within the first year.

IMAGE:  M-SAAVE student team members (pictured left to right): Kavya Saravanan, Emilee Seghi, Alex Strehlow, Parker Trombley

The program, entitled Michigan Sustainability Applications for Aerospace Vehicle Engineering (M-SAAVE) and funded by the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Flight Vehicle Institute, will culminate in the design, development, and field testing of an unmanned aircraft, customized to the needs of field mission surveys and deliveries. U-M Aerospace Engineering Professor and faculty advisor for M-SAAVE George Halow comments,

This unique program will not only afford the students the ability to see the fruits of their work applied in a practical situation, but will reiterate the broad advantages of aircraft beyond just the commercial industry- in this case, improving the human condition by expanding the reach of humanitarian relief and assistance through aviation.”

EnlargeGeorge Halow, Professor of Practice
IMAGE:  George Halow, Professor of Practice

The severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the obstacles associated with global movement and distribution served to further highlight the need for logistical organization and accessibility for the humanitarian community. Supply chain demands can be trying in even the most developed areas but when working with remote and isolated communities, aid professionals face numerous hurdles. Geography, weather, political climate, war, and infrastructural instability all add extra layers to the complications of transportation. The mission of the M-SAAVE team is to harness technology and aeronautical engineering to safely, economically, and practically address these challenges. 

The design, build, and test processes will all be completed solely by a diverse team of talented and skilled students, advised by aerospace faculty and the Air Serv team. Candidate recruitment for the program is under way, with a core team already in place. The University has authorized use of a 1000 square foot dedicated lab space, allowing for meetings, design reviews, and construction on-site. Students and faculty are working hard to prepare the facility for the program launch this coming fall. The program is scheduled for one academic year, with the possibility of continued collaboration to aid in the development of aerial solutions for the humanitarian sector. The effort is funded in large part by the FXB Flight Vehicle Institute (FVI), a fund established in the memory of Francois-Xavier Bagnoud, a former U-M aerospace engineering student and philanthropist. In support of the new partnership, U-M Aerospace Engineering Professor Ken Powell shares, “On behalf of the FXB Flight Vehicle Institute, I am very excited about this collaboration. It epitomizes the spirit of both François’ love of flight and the FXB Foundation’s dedication to humanitarian efforts.”

Of the program, Air Serv consulting lead Henk Boneschans says, “Now is the time for a partnership like this, merging education, expertise, and demand. There are two continuously growing sectors in this world which are overlapping more and more—humanitarian aid and technology. It makes absolute sense that technology can and must be used to alleviate the dire needs of the less fortunate, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are the next logical step in the evolution of humanitarian aviation.”

Air Serv aircraft serve as a bridge, carrying aid from the donors to those who need it most. With a fleet of five Cessna Caravans, Air Serv specializes in last-mile” air transportation in support of humanitarian programs. In addition to charter, facilities, maintenance, and consulting services, Air Serv is dedicated to providing response capabilities for organizations operating in disaster areas. For information about humanitarian programs or to make a donation to support emergency response efforts, please visit For more information about operations and facilities, please visit

The University of Michigan’s Aerospace Engineering Department is the first collegiate aeronautics program in the United States—started in 1914, with more than 6,000 aerospace engineers who graduated over the past 100 years. Our undergraduate and graduate programs have continuously been among the very best in the U.S. Our faculty research expertise covers a broad spectrum of topics including computational science, multi-physics modeling and simulation, aerostructures, smart structures and materials, flight dynamics and control, autonomous systems, avionics and software systems, multidisciplinary design optimization, propulsion, combustion, and sustainable energy, with a mix of air and space applications.

George Halow, Professor of Practice
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Kimberly Johnson
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