Thursday, 18 September 2014

My Steps towards a career in Aviation

By Alexandra Slabutu

Having worked in Dublin airport and travelled the world with Emirates Airlines, my aspirations towards a career within the aviation industry were getting bigger. Throughout my experience I realise that I wanted something more technical, something that could offer me the chance to deal with airplanes, airlines and airports on a daily basis. However I knew that I had to pursue higher level education, in order to become more employable and increase my career opportunities in the near future. So I decided it was time to go back to college.

Throughout my research DIT had by far grabbed my attention with their freshly run course, Engineering in Aviation Technology (DIT 011 CAO Reference number), which is a 3 year Ordinary Degree.

Once starting 1st Year I was super excited and looking forward to studying new subjects such as:
  • Aircraft Aerodynamics, Systems and Structures, 
  • Aeronautical Lab, 
  • Aircraft Engines,
  • Materials Hardware and Maintenance Practices, 
  • Electricity and Electronics, 
  • Thermo-fluids,
  • Mathematics, 
  • Avionics, 
  • Mechanical Engineering. 
It was very impressive and comforting knowing that all the lectures have vast experience in the aviation industry, some of whom are still active.

What I loved about this course was the distributed balance between theory and practical work. The Aviation Technology Centre (ATC) based near Dublin Airport gave us the opportunity to simulate and practice realistic tasks that we may face in the industry. The equipment found in this facility ranged from aircraft (military jet Fouga Magister, LearJet, R22 Helicopter), to various engine types, an avionics laboratory, tool stores, airframes and other items that are used in the practical aspects of the training.


My personal experience during the first year of this course has been really adventurous in the sense that I have done things I could only imagine I would do and I have overcome obstacles and tasks successfully, even though at first glance it appeared to be difficult to do so.  As a girl with no technical experience, when it came to the likes of understanding the constructional arrangements and the importance of the airflow path through an engine or the pneumatics systems such as vapour cycle machines/air conditioning pack functionality and even getting used to the vast ambiguous terminology so specific to aviation industry (annular chamber, aerofoil, angle of incidence, empennage, gyro erection with balls etc.), it was quiet challenging. However, by the end of each module I could look back and be amazed how everything is so linked together and easy to comprehend.

I found the Avionics and Aerodynamics modules very exciting as it really taught me how pretty much to fly an airplane, giving a taste of what it's like to be a pilot. Especially when we would go into our ATC and practice the theory learned in the classroom based on flight control operation, flight/aircraft instruments (basic T, basic 6), navigation etc., on the aircraft or the improvised simulator based in the hangar. Being able to sit in the cockpit of these aircraft, using the flight controls, seeing some of the aircraft instruments active and turning on the engine of the Learjet aircraft could be quite overwhelming.

There were times when the given assignments, like building a 555 Integrated Circuit or describing the diagram of the charging system of a light piston engine, seemed merely impossible to do. But the beauty of completing these tasks lay in the fact that we, the colleagues, helped each other to understand points that alone we couldn’t and worked as a team. Once these were completed we had an amazing feeling of pride, as what at first seemed merely impossible, became successfully doable.

The lecturers have a great technique of presenting/ describing the course material by giving us examples of real aviation events that happened in the past, such as aircraft incidents, and from their own experiences which they have encountered along their careers. For example when the Pressurization topic had to be covered we looked at analysing the aircraft incidents such as the Helios 522 or Aloha flight. This had an enormous positive impact on my way of studying as it gave me a clear picture, visualising how things work, connect and also identifying the consequences and effects of such events involved in the aviation industry. I find it thrilling to know how we can apply this knowledge in various situations.

Hands-on work, based in the ATC, focusing on the aircraft maintenance included simple tasks like riveting, fabrication exercise, soldering, trimming wire, fastening bolts with lock wire, engine borescoping, continuity checks, testing of bonds and grounds. A troubleshooting exercise such as the Red anti-collision light of an R22 using a task card to fill in the details was also carried out, mirroring the exact same procedures that would be met in a Maintenance Repair Overhaul (MRO) hangar.

By the end of the first year many of my questions have been answered. I always wondered how an airplane actually flies, what keeps it up there, how are we able to breathe and have a comfortable temperature at 40 000 ft., how does an engine function, how does an aircraft protect itself from lightning, how does a smoke detector in a lavatory work etc. It is fascinating to know the technical complexity of such machinery that many of us take for granted when we travel in it.

I have also learned how this industry is heavily regulated and that every single nut and bolt is traceable and everything is documented. Safety comes first, there is no place for mistakes. Trust, communication and patience are the main characteristics of a member of this industry as big responsibility lies among the whole crew involved, even from the very early stages of designing, building, testing, flying, maintaining and ground operation of an aircraft.

Once I grasped a fair understanding of this course combined with my previous work experience I decided in my spare time to get involved with more aviation related experiences. Luckily enough, opportunities have arisen and I got the chance to visit the Dublin Aerospace hangars and get a two day work placement in their APU Shop. There I have learned and seen the managerial and technical steps involved in the operation of dealing with a component such as the auxiliary power unit.

For the first time I've also become familiar and understand the meaning of terminology such as the General Terms Agreement (GTA), which is the documentation that protects the company from any kind of legal conflict, Request for Proposal (RFP), Letter of Intent (LOI), service bulletin (SB). Furthermore I had the pleasure to meet the engineering and sales team of SR Technics at Dublin Airport, where I was introduced to their roles. Nevertheless, Avolon Leasing firm gave me a totally new experience in the area of aircraft leasing; here I got involved in the finance team. During my three month internship I was impressed by their professionalism, friendliness, support and enthusiasm to share and teach me about this new side of the industry that I never really knew about until recently.

Now that I just started second year, there’s a lot more to learn and explore, of which I am eager to venture into. I come to conclude that aviation is, in fact, a small industry and once you show a sparkle of enthusiasm people from this industry are more than happy to share their knowledge and maybe guide you to the right door.

Irish Aviation Research Institute © 18th September 2014 All Rights Reserved.