How to become an aircraft engineer: Balwant's story

Meet Balwant, 22, an aircraft engineer for British Airways at Heathrow Airport. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

"The hardest part was the interview process and getting onto the apprenticeship. From there, everyone just helps you work your way through."

What is your job?

I work on line maintenance and we turn around planes when they come to Heathrow Airport. We get planes ready to go on their next flight by carrying out any maintenance needed. I work in the cabin engineering department, so we look after everything in the cabin. We carry out checks on things like seats, lights or in-flight entertainment, then we fix any problems.

What subjects did you study?

I took all required GCSEs and Food Technology, Music and Business Studies. I achieved A-levels in Maths, Chemistry, Music and English Literature. I use maths a lot in my job. It was part of the module that I studied to get my licence to carry out aircraft maintenance work. I’m also part of the Royal Air Force Air Cadets, so I have a BTEC in Aviation Studies and in Public Services.

Is this the job you always wanted to do?

I actually wanted to be a pilot. I realised that I was not as academic as I needed to be to become a pilot. So, I did work experience in engineering, and decided I loved it! My work experience at British Airways was not like the work experience I’d done elsewhere. I was actually given tools to work with. It was hands-on and that probably influenced my decision to take the route that I followed. I’m glad I chose this route – I'm really happy.

How did you get into your job?

I applied online for the British Airways Apprenticeship Programme. There was a one-to-one interview, a group interview and written exercises. Then we went off for a day of team working. I got a call two days before I finished my exams to say I had got the job!

Balwant repairing a fault in the aircraft.

Top tips

  • Try to get work experience. I know it’s hard but try to push for it

  • Try to do day visits and speak to people in the industry because they are the best people to ask for advice

  • In aviation, people think that a pilot is the only route to take – there’s so much more. When airlines have open days, go to them.

What to expect if you want to be a aircraft engineer

  • Aircraft engineer salary: £30,000 to £50,000
  • Aircraft engineer working hours: 42 to 44 hours. You may work evenings, weekends and bank holidays.

What qualifications do you need to be a aircraft engineer?

  • Typical entry requirements: You'll need an engineering qualification and maintenance experience to apply for a licence to become an aircraft engineer. You'll usually need a foundation degree, higher national diploma or degree in aerospace engineering, avionics, or a related subject like aeronautical engineering, electrical or electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, manufacturing or product engineering, physics or applied physics, software engineering or mathematics. You’ll usually need one or two A-levels (or equivalent) for a foundation degree or higher national diploma, and two or three A-levels (or equivalent), including Maths, for a degree. You could do a college course, which would teach you some of the skills and knowledge you need in this job. Relevant courses include the Level 2 and Level 3 Diploma in Aerospace and Aviation Engineering. You can get into this job through an aircraft maintenance certifying engineering higher apprenticeship. Some aircraft engineering companies offer graduate training schemes.
    You'll need a Part-66 engineering licence issued through the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to work in this role. There are different categories to the licence, depending on the type of work you want to do, but common ones are:

    • B1 mechanical – for work on an aircraft’s structure and electrical systems
    • B2 avionics – for work on navigation, communication and electronic instruments

This information is a guide (sources: LMI, National Careers Service)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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