British Airways is selecting the first candidates for a new engineering apprentice scheme which the UK flag-carrier is establishing to feed its London-area maintenance bases.
Director of engineering, Garry Copeland, told ATI at the Farnborough Air Show that the airline wanted to underpin its engineering workforce, having shaped the division to become more competitive, and prepare to offer other skills as new aircraft types are introduced.
He says the engineering division has been stabilised, with a workforce "close to what's needed in the long term" and is in a position to embark on growth.
Under the apprenticeship scheme three colleges - at Farnborough, Kingston and Brooklands - will each accept 30 candidates when the first courses begin in September. The airline is also looking for a fourth college, on the north side of London Heathrow.
In conjunction the carrier will run a business administration apprentice scheme, for a further 15 people, to support maintenance planning and other areas.
Copeland says the process will replenish about half the 150-200 staff who leave the division each year, while allowing the airline freedom to bring in selected experienced personnel from other companies.
"It's expensive in terms of the effort put in, rather than the money we're putting in," Copeland says. But he adds that the courses have been "massively oversubscribed", with some six applicants for each place, defying any suggestion that enthusiasm for engineering as a career might be fading. "That's not our experience," says Copeland.
The courses run for three years, although BA expects each graduate would need another two years' training to reach the levels required for qualification.
"The BA business is starting to show significant signs of recovery," says Copeland, adding that the carrier wants to compete for a greater share of third-party work from other carriers. External work currently accounts for about 10% of BA's engineering turnover.
Copeland adds that BA also wants to enhance its composites capabilities and ensure that it is ready to deal with evolving technologies, such as the electrical assemblies on the Boeing 787. BA has both the 787 and the Airbus A380 on order.