British Airways Engineering opens a new era of growth this week with the induction of 90 aspiring technicians to its newly established apprentice scheme.
Director of engineering Garry Copeland says the new apprentices are a significant intake for a department that numbered 18,000 people 20 years ago and 11,000 a decade back, but today, owing to the increased reliability of aircraft and growing productivity, employs just 4,700 staff globally.
BA Engineering, he adds, expects to need the extra bodies to cope with growth in a business that, despite the relatively high labour cost of its London Heathrow base, is driving a surge in business from third-party customers. Copeland says the business may also begin hiring what he calls mid-career people looking to move to - or back to - British Airways.
Currently, he says, about 10% of BA Engineering's workload is for non-BA customers, and he hopes to double that proportion. In revenue terms, the third-party business has gone from £30 million ($47 million) a year 18 months ago to £42-42 million today, so growth is on track to reach £60 million or so in another 18 months. "That's a creditable effort in the worst recession in recent years," he says.
Copeland says that BA Engineering's push for third-party business is a strategic move to ensure the future of its London operations. He says that bringing in non-BA work is the best way to ensure that the engineering department - whose capabilities range from wheel and tyre renewal to component overhaul and airframe maintenance - can justify maintaining the staff and experience levels, and capital investment, needed to operate efficiently.
He adds that the capabilities BA offers at Heathrow make it a natural supplier for many airlines operating from or through the London hub. Critically, he notes, London labour rates are not a barrier, as materials costs represent 70% of the cost of jobs such as electrical equipment overhaul, so quality and efficiency matter.
The new apprentice intake, which was selected from 600 applicants, will be split between three colleges - at Farnborough, Kingston and Brooklands - for a three-year course. BA expects graduates to require a further two years of training to achieve qualification standards.