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Resilience as a Resilient Concept


Two years ago the ComplexWorld Network started a thread on Resilience in Air Transport as part of its Position Paper which aimed at identifying long term innovative research fields. As a continuation of that initial work Innaxis is currently developing the Resilience2050 project, in partnership with a consortium of experts in the relevant lines of research, among them the King´s College of London. As experts in the environmental field, King´s College has brought to the project their broad and in-depth expertise on the study of resilience from very diverse social systems.

Our Innaxis colleague Hector reminded us in his first post the engineering perspective of the resilience concept. It is also interesting opening the mind to learn about its application to social systems, to where it has expanded from its original ecological domain. For a scientific concept, the way that the characteristic of resilience can be studied in such vastly different arenas is quite unique. It was first applied to materials engineering in the mid 20th century. Twenty-five years later it was first applied to systems, when it was introduced to the ecological field. Since then, a broad range of disciplines have included this concept as a line of research, and even the term psychological resilience has been rapidly adopted and spread since it was introduced more than 30 years ago, referring to the capacity of a person to manage stress and adversity. Since Hurricane Sandy and the US government’s policy response to make cities more resilient to climate related disasters, resilience has dominated conversations and studies relating to city planning and infrastructure.

Going through the different fields of relevance, one can start to achieve a broad understanding of the meaning of resilience, although proving a common agreed definition is not an easy task. What is indeed common to all applications of the resilience concept is the existence of two key parameters, on the one hand, an external agent that causes stress over the object or system of study and, on the other hand, a response to that stress that tends to recover its stable state. This trend of returning to normalcy is what provides more harmony to the different meanings of resilience and what makes it especially interesting to Innaxis and the ComplexWorld projects for it to be applied to the air transport system. The increasing mobility needs of the citizens across ever larger distances make society highly dependent on this transport medium. Enhancing its stability is a key factor that needs to be fostered to fulfill societal expectations. This is the general objective over which Resilience2050 was built: investigating the resilience of the Air Transport has a high potential of improving system behaviour understanding and, subsequently, its governance in a cost-effective manner.

But… What converts a “fashionable” word in an atemporal multidisciplinary concept? Why has this term been so well accepted in the different domains? Has this recently opened research line come to stay in the ATM field?