Aviation Forum 2021

Reimagining Hands-on Learning Over the Internet


The STEP Aviation Forum (formerly TFI Aviation Forum) is a programme supported by Temasek Foundation that gathers youths from ASEAN countries in Singapore for a week-long series of aviation industry knowledge sharing, drone workshops and cultural exchange activities.


Create a memorable learning experience for cultural exchange and industry sharing that overcomes border restrictions in Singapore.


A week-long hybrid programme in partnership with leading aviation partners for participants across ASEAN.


Few industries have experienced a more tumultuous year than the aviation industry. However, the slow down in travel is also shining a spotlight on opportunities for innovation in automation, sustainability and digital credentialing as the industry tries to emerge greener, safer and more resilient. 

With the border restrictions still in order, Design Innovation SG (SUTD) was challenged to design a hybrid STEP Aviation Forum that incorporated the hands-on nature of its predecessors. The result was a hybrid programme that incorporated both physical artefacts and online elements to create a remote yet immersive and hands-on learning experience.

The Precedent

Since its inception in 2018, the STEP Aviation Forum has flown tertiary students across ASEAN to Singapore for a fully immersive week-long excursion. Participants engaged in a group-based Design Innovation workshop, a drone fabrication workshop and other recreational and networking opportunities during their stay. 

Having no prior experience with design thinking, participants were excited to discover new methodologies that helped them synthesize their ideas. They took turns sketching out their craziest ideas and storyboarding their use cases as a team. Participants also spent numerous afternoons in the fully decked out Fabrication Labs in SUTD tinkering with drones. They got to try out state-of-the-art fabrication tools like the 3D printer and the laser cutting machine just to name a few.

Moreover, participants were ecstatic to build new friendships with other like-minded individuals across ASEAN. From a tour across the marina bay waterfront to engaging in the quintessential Singaporean late-night pastime: supper, the participants were fully immersed in the Singapore culture.

Aviation Forum 2019

Plans Disrupted

The 2020 TFI Aviation forum encountered a dramatic and unfortunate end due to the sudden rise in Covid-19 cases. With their luggage packed and ready to go and some even waiting right outside the boarding gates, many participants were devastated to find out that Singapore was closing their borders to travellers just hours before they boarded their flight. The abrupt closure of Singapore’s borders forced a shut down on the event entirely.

The Revival

After almost a year of anticipating a return to normalcy, Temasek Foundation and the Design Innovation team decided that it was time to stand up to the challenge instead of waiting for the storm to pass. Weeks of discussions led to a resolution to creating the STEP Aviation Forum 2021.

Despite the travel restrictions, the Design Innovation team promised to recreate the TFI Aviation Forum magic that was a combination of hands-on learning experience, the thrill of travelling andthe friendships forged. The result was a 3-part programme - drone workshop, design innovation workshop, and industry sharing segment - delivered through a curated mix of virtual and physical elements that were designed to inspire awe and drive interaction between participants. 

Drone Workshop

Since participants couldn’t fabricate their own drones in SUTD’s Fablab, the DI team worked closely with Professor Shao Hui to restructure the programme’s focus towards learning how to operate a drone and theory of use. The redesigned Drone Workshop was split into 3 components: the drone flight & theory workshop, a physical drone challenge and a virtual drone race flown in a setting that mimicked the tourist-favorite Marina Bay Sands area in Singapore.

Each participant was sent a First-Person View (FPV) drone kit that contained a headset, a quadcopter, and a radio transmitter which they used for practical flying lessons. Using this kit, participants learnt how to operate a basic multi-rotor drone. Participants also competed against one another for the highest number of figure-8s they could manage.

Drone Obstacle Challenge

For the finale of the drone workshop, participants logged into a custom application where they could virtually fly adrone in FPV as an homage to the flagship drone race, a hallmark of the Aviation Forum. Participants zoomed past iconic landmarks like the Marina Bay Sands hotel and Singapore River in a game of wit and agility to be crowned the championship title, which could only have been possible in the virtual world.

Virtual drone race in the Marina Bay Sands area

STEP Aviation Forum Package

Cultural exchange and networking amongst the youths was central to the spirit of this programme. With the programme conducted virtually, the DI team created group-based activities that required participants to work together closely over the 7-day programme. To facilitate cultural exchange, each participant was sent a special package that contained a little bit of our favorite part of Singapore – the food. Every package contained Singapore’s favourite childhood snacks and postcards about how to best consume these snacks the “Singaporean way”.

STEP Aviation Forum Package
Milo Dinosaur Concoction by a Participant

Participants also got a chance to share a bit about their own culture during the 7-day programme. Some created short videos while others planned a show-and-tell for their fellow participants. An international pre-paid stamp was even included in the package so that participants could send mystery boxes filled with goodies from their home country to other participants.

“I like how we are able to connect with each other despite being from different backgrounds (we differ in nationality/field of expertise).”

Industry Sharing

The industry sharing component for this STEP Aviation Forum was focused on exposing participants to the wide range of career paths and opportunities within the aviation industry. This was designed to address feedback from participants who want to enter the industry but are not enrolled in aviation-related courses. Influential speakers from the academic sphere as well as industry leaders were invited to share about their experience, knowledge and exciting opportunities that the participants can look forward to in preparation for the imminent re-emergence of the aviation industry.

With this run of the STEP Aviation Forum, the DI team hopes to inspire our youths and partners that any challenge can be overcome with a can-do attitude, some technology and a whole lot of innovation.

About Design Innovation Singapore

Design Innovation Singapore is the design service arm of DesignZ at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). We offer a wide range of design services to our clients including design consultancy, design innovation training and organizational transformation, product development and more. We are a lean team of multidisciplinary designers who have a passion for user-centric design in both application and education.

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