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Celebrating the Airbus Centre of Excellence

1 December 2022


A strategic alliance to find solutions to human-focused threats to cyber security has recently been signed in Cardiff. The Airbus Centre of Excellence in Human Centric Cyber Security is a multi-layered collaboration with Airbus, the global tech giant, led by Cardiff University. The agreement draws the parties closer to work on joint projects. In the first of two blogs, we publish extracts from the launch speeches, celebrating the growth, achievements and future of the partnership

Vaughan Gething, Minister for Economy, Welsh Government

“I’m delighted to help launch the Airbus Center of Excellence in Human Centric Behaviors.

“As ever, our aim at the outset has been a simple one: how do we build a thriving, entrepreneurial and innovative economy based on the principles of fair work, sustainability, and the industries and services of the future? This partnership is an example of how that can be translated into something real. Our expertise in cybersecurity in Wales allows us to show evidence of that ambition on a global stage, to show how we’ve developed technology that can magnetize investment in what we want to create here in Wales: a stronger, greener and fairer economy.

“And when I’ve been abroad, it’s been interesting to see awareness of a developing cyber cluster that other people are noticing, and it is pleasing to see the sector has grown and is here to celebrate another achievement thanks to the combined forces of academia, industry, and Government. Wales now has one of the biggest cyber security ecosystems in the UK and one of the strongest in Europe.

“And I’ve seen for myself how trusted partnerships have been built: the way our universities work alongside government and business. The journey to this partnership began almost a decade ago because of work undertaken in the Endeavr program.

“Wales is a small country that can be a clever country by taking advantage of our size. We need to find ways to work together and not to compete internally with each other. Endeavr is a joint venture between the Welsh Government and Airbus, together with Cardiff University, on behalf of the university sector here in Wales. And it was set up to encourage Welsh universities and SMEs to develop ideas in niche areas within early technology readiness.

“In 2017, Airbus recognised Cardiff University as its only global Airbus Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Analytics as a result of the sustained delivery of benefits that Airbus themselves recognized, followed in 2018 by an extension of the Endeavr program to include the Cyber Lab Initiative, and as part of this, Professor Phil Morgan joined on secondment from Cardiff School of Psychology.

“Adding another pillar in human centric cyber security, together with expertise in cyber, form the cornerstones of cutting-edge cybersecurity research and innovation activity undertaken at the Airbus Newport campus, part of the region and not just about the capital city.

“Wales has gone from early beginnings a decade ago to the strength in depth we see today, with the potential to do more in the future. That’s why we can’t and should not rest on our laurels. If the pandemic taught us anything is to be ready for change and to respond quickly. I look forward to seeing the journey continue and to develop an even stronger ecosystem to allow us to extend our reach both within Wales and beyond, to export the expertise that we’ve developed, and to continue to see it grow. Thanks to the dedication of Airbus and Cardiff University, it’s a key part of the economy of the future.”

Professor Colin Riordan, President and Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University

“We are delighted to celebrate the launch of the Airbus and Cardiff University Strategic Partnership between our two organizations. We’ve been working together for a long time, but we have really now come together to ensure we work together in a strategic way, mapping across all important agendas at a very topical time.

“The war in Eastern Europe could easily turn into a devastatingly hot war, preceded by a massive cyberattack on the West: all military analysis points to the possibility of this simultaneous approach. Cyber security can be as big as that, and as small as just trying to remember yet another password.

“The more digitally transformed we are, the more vulnerable we are. The weak point in the cybersecurity chain is us: the human factor. Now, we’re building on strong foundations: our Airbus Centre of Excellence in Cybersecurity was launched in 2017, led by Professor Pete Burnap. The National Cyber Security Centre, or NCSC, named Cardiff as an academic center of excellence in cyber security research in 2018. And now we also have the equivalent in education as well, so on both the research and innovation side, and on the skills side, we’re recognized as a center for excellence, one of only three Russell Group universities in that category.

“Our next phase is equally exciting, with the launch of the Airbus Center of Excellence in Human Centric Cybersecurity, led by Professor Phil Morgan. It puts people at the centre of the analysis, which is, of course, critical.

“The Cyber Innovation Hub is another fantastic project. Jointly funded by Welsh Government and the Cardiff Capital Region, it’s a truly visionary project and will make a big difference, helping to catalyze economic growth and job creation in the region. The target is to create more than 25 successful new cyber start-ups, and to upskill and reskill over 1,500 people in cyber over the next five years.

“These are challenging goals. The demand is huge, but we have a talent pipeline, we have the expertise, we have the facilities here, and we have the right circumstances. It was great to be recognized in the UK’s recent Defence AI strategy as one of the seven strong tech clusters that have emerged in support of this agenda, so there’s a great track record there and a story of success which we will continue to build on into the future.”

Dr Kevin Jones, Group Chief Information Security Officer, Airbus

“At the heart of it, it’s all about knowledge transfer, skills transfer and trust. In industry, we can bring best practice, latest research and knowledge into what we deliver on a day-to-day basis. For academics, it means we share industry knowledge.

“The partnership is not just about industry and academia: government has a role to play in what we do here. NCSC and Welsh Government have been very supportive of what we do here in Wales.

“Airbus has three Centres of Excellence is in the UK. Two of them are at Cardiff University. A centre of excellence for Airbus is something unique. It means we’ve really got a close collaboration and the university can bring expert knowledge to us in a new domain.

“What is human factors in cybersecurity all about? It’s perhaps no surprise that the aviation sector is the one driving human centric cybersecurity. We’ve looked at how we design cockpits, the way pilots make decisions and the way pilots understand what is going on in the heat of the moment. We’ve looked at how pilots communicate with each other because that knowledge and ability to communicate is life-critical in an emergency in the air.

“We’ve looked at evacuation from aircraft – how people respond when they need to hit the brace position, for example, we didn’t just accept that an accident was something that would happen. We wanted to reduce the number of accidents that occur to make aviation safer as a sector. And we shared that information with all of our peers industrywide.

“We looked at ‘black box thinking. Why did that person have an inclination to do something? What motivated them? The aviation sector is a pioneer: we take that knowledge and apply it to cyber security across our industry as a whole. The university is now the center of excellence in cyber security, so we want to work very closely with the team and with students: it’s very difficult to recruit cyber talent. Having the right skills locally to our premises, whether that’s in Toulouse, Hamburg, Munich or right here in Wales, it’s really important to us as a business.

“We started looking three years ago, beginning of 2020, about how we reorganize cyber security globally and we looked at where we had the right skills in the right location. One of the reasons that we were able to stay here in Wales and Wales was really attractive for us to retain our skills, to grow our skills is because those skills exist in Wales, because we have things like the cyber innovation hub and the cyber lab and because we have partnerships with Cardiff University and I’m not sure the outcome would have been the same if those things didn’t exist.”

Chris Ensor, Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, National Cyber Security Centre

“I’ve seen Cardiff University go from strength to strength after it first gained recognition by NCSC in 2018 as an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research, with more and more investment.

“I think that’s really a credit to the support given to cybersecurity within the University. It’s so important. The fact that there are now 20 full-time academics not just in cybersecurity, but in computer science, psychology and criminology, shows that It’s not just about the technology. There are so many different aspects to it. It’s really important to bring them together, and the new partnership and the new centre will do just that.

“The partnership between Airbus and Cardiff University has made a real difference. The investment and work you did together contributed to building Cardiff’s cyber capability. Having that close relationship with industry is important, and I always cite Cardiff as an exemplar. People tend to think that academic engagement is about funding a project or a PhD, but the model here has academics embedded a day or so a week. That way, you built trust, and from that trust, things have grown. It’s good to see how the partnership has developed from those early seeds.

“It doesn’t always take money at the end of the day. It helps, but it’s really that kind of passion and enthusiasm from all parties. I think today’s launch is just another example of what that partnership can do, and really emphasizes the close relationship between industry and academics.”

For more information on the Airbus Centre of Excellence in Human Centric Cyber Security, contact Professor Phil Morgan –