Andy Dixon is responsible for manpower allocation and customer liaison
What sparked your interest in aviation?
My father was the station manager for Icelandair at Heathrow, so I always got the chance to look at aircraft. Security was much less stringent then and I was able to see things from the control tower - something that wouldn't happen today.
How did you become an engineer?
I joined the Royal Air Force as a general apprentice. I then branched into helicopter engineering and spent my time around the UK, Europe and a tour in Belize. I've worked on large and small helicopters such as Eurocopter Pumas and Boeing Chinooks. I was in the RAF for 10 years.
When you rejoined the civilian world, where did you go?
Effectively I have been at PremiAir since the day I left the RAF. I started off as a contractor for European helicopters, and worked my way up to become chief engineer - I still have valid licences for AgustaWestland AW109 A/E as well as Twin Squirrel (Eurocopter AS355). I then moved up to where I am today as overall manager, as well as having been hangar foreman.
Describe a typical day
I am a firm believer of 'coffee pot management'. I'm there first to put the coffee on and will be the last to leave to make sure it's off. We've got between 20 and 30 engineers here and I'm responsible for manpower allocation as well as liaising with the customers. I also need to keep in touch with the hangar foreman. Often the heads of departments have a production and planning meeting.
What about the challenges?
There are two major challenges for us at the moment. The new EASA regulations and the dearth of licensed engineers.
To combat the engineer shortages we launched our own apprenticeship scheme, which is in its first year. Currently we've got our first rotation - in effect during 'term time' apprentices are at college in Farnborough then during their 'holidays' they come to Blackbushe with us or they'll go to TAG or GAMA at Farnborough. This gives them a chance to see different sides, and also lets us handpick the guys we want, and further groom them to our needs. When they're in their second year they have to make a preference choice and then they're here full time with college day release. Generally the apprentices can expect to be licensed in about five years.
Apprentices used to be poorly treated, but we've very much embracing them and encouraging them. Engineering now is becoming much more academic It isn't so much a craft anymore, it is more about management structures and changing regulations.
What sort of customers do you have?
We have a variety of customers from individual owners up to fleet operators. It is not uncommon to see our engineers wearing gloves and taking their shoes off before they get into a helicopter. We certainly understand the importance of ensuring that when an aircraft leaves it is nothing less than spotless.
Do your engineers ever get out of the hangar?
Yea. A couple of examples would be if a helicopter goes tech in Geneva, we'd fly the engineer out, he'd meet up with the part or parts, fit them, do a ground run and sign the aircraft off. Then catch an airline flight back home. Or, some of our customers do like to keep their helicopters on their yachts in the summer months. If needed we will base an engineer on their yacht to keep them in the air. This could be for a couple of weeks and it's not a bad way to earn money!
What's your advice someone looking for a career in aviation engineering?
There are so many opportunities if you are focused enough, especially with such a strong industry demand. There will be a real problem in probably eight to 10 years with the numbers of licensed engineers dropping dramatically and these need to be replaced. The military route isn't so much an option anymore. We invest in our staff because they invest in us.
Source: Flight International