Down and Dirty
02 Nov 2011
Virgin Atlantic apprentice Will McEwan was on the verge of graduating as an A licence technician when Engineering Careers caught up with him. But he still wants to stay close to the nitty gritty of production.
Where are you in the apprenticeship programme with Virgin Atlantic?
I am about two weeks from graduating from a four-year programme. We have just found out where our placements are going to be. I am going to be based at the Gatwick hanger. I'm going to be on a shift as a technician working on the maintenance of the airframes and the engines of the Virgin Atlantic fleet.
The four years has gone by very quickly. I was 19 when I started and I was one of the oldest. Many people had just left school. I had a year at college after school and did my AS levels and was working at a leisure centre. When I started, I looked at the guys that were working on the aircraft and thought at the time: "How will I ever get to that level?", because you come in knowing nothing. I've learnt so much, but even now, at 23, there is still a learning curve. We are always going to be learning.
What made you want to get into the apprenticeship?
I have always had an interest in aircraft. My dad used to take me to the airports all the time and I was in the Air Cadets as well. So I have always been around it. Through Air Cadets, I got speaking to one of the instructors here at Virgin Atlantic and also a few guys that were already in the apprenticeship scheme, who said I should apply. So I applied for this and fell on my feet. I haven't looked back since.
What sort of training do you receive over the four years?
It's very hands on, learning basic hand and practical skills, which is backed up by classroom training. By the end of the first year, we were out at Gatwick, shadowing engineers and watching how it is done. Since then, you gradually build up how much you can do and how much supervision you have. To get the A-licence, you have to do a number of modules, which cover all the theory and practical of maintaining an aircraft.
What are the highlights of your career so far?
I have been in the workshop for the last three months, doing composite repairs. We normally get placed with a composite specialist. I also helped out with one of the projects – Project Smart – a couple of years ago. That was working more in the office and getting involved in the whole supply chain. Through that, I met one of the cabin product guys. I went out with him to Reynard Aviation and got to go on site and do third-party source inspections.
What sort of day-to-day skills do you need?
We do have the diagnostic equipment, but a lot is still back to spanners, screwdrivers and basic tools. You obviously have to learn the hand skills to be able to do the work. But you are learning new things all the time, which is vital, if you are to progress, as you can't just dive straight in; it is not as simple as just picking up a spanner and undoing a bolt. There can be a lot of specialist equipment, especially on the avionics side, and composite side as well. So there is a lot more to it than getting down and greasy with spanners.
Also, it's not just 'monkey says, monkey does', go out there and change some things. There is a lot of looking in to things, for example with the back offices, where you know what is coming in, and you will have to go and get the manuals, references and records that you need. We have all had a chance to work on the avionics side and there is a lot more troubleshooting with system and schematic manuals and wiring diagrams.
What are you going to do once you finish your apprenticeship?
We all come out as A licence technicians, so we can do a bit of everything. The apprentices before us tended to split it between avionic technicians and mechanical technicians, but we are supposed to do both. So it is quite a broad spectrum. At the end of the apprenticeship, depending on where we go, you can specialise in line maintenance, hanger maintenance and perhaps different aircraft types. For the time being, I want to stay in production and keep getting my hands dirty.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd
This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact
the sales team.