Steph Smith BEng (Hons), MRAeS – B1 Licensed Aircraft Engineer, A400M, Airbus

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Background

My love of aviation started when I had my first flight in a glider age 10. I spent my weekends and school holidays on the airfield and on my 16th birthday I soloed. My love of gliding has grown over the years, I now fly my late father’s glider from The Gliding Centre, Husbands Bosworth.

After college I went to Newcastle Aviation Academy to do a Foundation Degree in Aircraft Engineering, a few years later I did the part time top up with Kingston University, whilst working at British Airways, to gain a First Class Bachelor’s Degree in Aircraft Engineering.

I started my aviation career in 2009 with British Airways at Heathrow, working my way up from unlicensed mechanic to licensed aircraft engineer. During my time at BA I worked on 777-200/300, 767-300, 747-400, A380 and 787-8/9’s. In 2017 the opportunity came along to join Airbus to work on the A400M.

In 2020 I won a ground school scholarship from British Women Pilots’ Association so I am now training for my PPL(A), as well as furthering my gliding qualifications. I am an active member of the BWPA community and volunteer for STEM events with organisations such as The Royal Aeronautical Society, using my flying and engineering experiences to encourage young people into aviation.

What is life like working in your role?

I work for Airbus at RAF Brize Norton as part of a team made up of civilians and 70 Squadron RAF engineering staff. The shift pattern is fixed, however the working hours rotate around an earlies, lates and nights rota. The pace of a working day varies depending on flight schedules, maintenance plans and availability of manpower and spares.

What does a typical day look like?

My day generally begins with scoping out aircraft for routes to ensure there is enough remaining potential before maintenance is due or assessing if maintenance tasks can be done down route. Once the aircraft is deemed fit to fly I sign the Certificate of Release to Service, allowing the flight crew to take charge holder responsibility. Sometimes there are crew in defects that need working before the aircraft can fly.

Normally I am  responsible for a small team of mechanics and technicians to carry out our day’s tasks, this requires me to supervise their work and certify it when necessary. I also help the mechanics and technicians to complete their on the job training books and logbooks to enable them to apply for company authorisations to certify their own work. We work on deferred defects that are expiring soon and deal with any incoming defects on arriving aircraft to enable the plane to remain serviceable.

Every job we carry out requires the use of aircraft manuals to ensure the job is done safely and correctly. The manuals tell us many things such as how to replace components, how to troubleshoot faults, part numbers for spares, damage assessment and repair procedures. It is common practice to  liaise with other departments to acquire information required to complete a task or to supply them with information to solve technical queries.

A frequent job I have to perform is engine ground runs as part of scheduled maintenance, for troubleshooting or for tests after components have been replaced. Doing engine runs at Brize Norton requires me to talk to Air Traffic Control over the radio as well, which gives me the opportunity to put my radio licence to good use.

What are the key skills required?

Communication is really important, whether it’s speaking with someone or sending an email. As an engineer you deal with people from different sections of the business, so sometimes it is necessary to be able to explain technical issues to a non-technical colleague to resolve a problem. Not only that but you have to be able to communicate with your team effectively and ensure everyone is comfortable voicing any safety concerns.

Ability to think on your feet and think fast is necessary, as plans can change quickly and frequently. Prioritising tasks to be carried out to meet the flight schedules, changing priorities as the day goes by and again communicating with the engineering desk and Maintrol as necessary to update them on your plans and progress.

You have to be willing to learn as there will always be a new training course to do; for new technology being introduced, new processes implemented and new aircraft types coming into service.

What is the most exciting/challenging part of the role?

As a child I was taken to many air shows and loved watching the aircraft from a distance, one of the perks of working at RAF Brize Norton is I now get to see some of these planes up close and it’s just a normal part of my day at work. I especially enjoy seeing the US Air Force B-2’s and B-52’s flying when they come over to Fairford for training.

As you can imagine no two days/shifts are the same, you never know what challenges you may have to respond to.

Any advice to give new entrants in the sector?

Network and engage with aviation professionals, it may help you decide on the career path you want or answer questions you might have on a particular role.

Never let anyone tell you that you are not capable of doing a job. Don’t give up on a dream, there’s more than one route to achieving your goals.

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