Making a difference by design
Jonathan Norris, formerly A350 XWB cabin and cargo programme manager, is Airbus's vice-president cabin design, responsible for new development. He is a chartered engineer with the UK Royal Aeronautical Society.
What sparked your interest in aviation?
As a child I was introduced to aviation through my uncle, who was in the Royal Air Force and who was an avid aircraft model maker. Through making numerous models, devouring aviation books and regular trips to aircraft museums and air shows with my uncle, I was quickly hooked.
As a teenager I worked as a volunteer at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall helping to restore a DH98 Mosquito. This convinced me that I wanted to leave school and take up an apprenticeship, which I did with British Aerospace at Hatfield in 1985.
What does your job entail?
I am responsible for new development activities in cabins on Airbus programmes. My team defines, designs and with our suppliers/partners delivers cabin interiors and lighting, monuments (lavatories, galleys and stowages), cabin electronic systems, passenger and cabin crew seats, in-flight entertainment and connectivity. I am also involved in the steering of research and technology projects such as our Spice project, which brings an innovative approach to galleys.
What challenges do you face?
We are lucky to have a number of extremely innovative airline customers who constantly want to push the boundaries of cabin design and therefore ensure that we remain dynamic and responsive. Our challenge is to generate value by delivering cabin solutions through leading innovation, architecture and engineering competencies and by integrating our global partners.
In your working life, what are you most proud of?
After 15 years with British Aerospace specialising in structural repairs and customer support I joined Fairchild Dornier in 2000 as chief design engineer on the 728JET. I learnt so much about aircraft development and systems integration in 18 months.
The Fairchild Dornier team achieved an incredible result through dedication, focus and a lot of hard work when on 27 March 2002 we rolled out the first 728JET. It was an incredibly proud moment. Sadly, the 728JET never flew due to the company entering insolvency.
What qualifications/skills do you need for your job?
An engineering degree is preferable (aerospace, mechanical or electrical engineering), although vocational training also provides a good route into engineering.
In my opinion it is also essential to build a broad range of aerospace experience in a number of disciplines and preferably across a number of different aircraft programmes and/or companies.
How is your earlier experience helping in your job today?
I have worked in various production, engineering/design, quality and customer support departments and have come into frequent contact with many airline customers.
Working with customers in an aircraft on ground repair situation quickly teaches you to be flexible, innovative and gets you thinking on your feet.
What recommendations would you give to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
I would suggest enrolling in an engineering degree programme, preferably one that allows an industry placement as part of the course to introduce some practical experience.