Air transportation is a growing market, with increasing business and leisure travel both in mature and emerging aviation markets.
"An average of 10 to 20 new carriers appear on the market every year to meet increasing air-travel demand, particularly in Asia and the Middle East," says Angus Cheung, chief executive officer, China Aircraft Services Limited (CASL). This growth translates into business potential and sustainable future growth for CASL and the entire industry.
CASL is a joint venture by four major players, China National Aviation Corporation (Group) Limited, United Airlines, China Airlines and Hutchison Whampoa (China) Limited, which provides aircraft line maintenance, cabin cleaning and ground support services at Hong Kong International Airport. CASL also associates with China Eastern Airlines to provide aircraft line-maintenance services at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
"There are tremendous opportunities around the world for people working in aircraft maintenance, particularly in large bases such as Japan, the US, Canada, the Middle East and China," Dr Cheung points out. "Locally, we are also taking on new blood for our development plans."
To maintain an adequate pool of mechanics and engineers, CASL invests heavily in its two-year training programme, offering comprehensive hands-on experience as well as a guaranteed route towards gaining the necessary academic qualifications. Participants are mainly university engineering graduates and higher diploma holders in aircraft maintenance engineering from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) in Tsing Yi.
"The programme is a fast track to gaining the necessary aviation engineering licenses. Not only do we help our employees to pursue their goals, we also streamline the process. However, there is no shortcut when it comes to the work experience needed by anyone wanting to make a career in this field," Dr Cheung notes. "In addition, international exposure is key in aviation. This is why we are creating opportunities for our employees to study outside Hong Kong, such as in Taiwan and Guangzhou."
Dr Cheung, who studied engineering at the University of Hong Kong and entered the industry as a chartered mechanical, electrical and industrial engineer, spent 10 years doing hands-on technical work before moving into a managerial position. In order to gain crucial management, accounting and commerce knowledge, he completed a MBA programme at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and now oversees the overall operation of the company, which employs nearly 1,000 staff.
An academic background in engineering is an asset for any prospective aviation engineer, stresses Dr Cheung. Apart from having a solid understanding of the sophisticated hardware and advanced technology involved, the engineers must also be equipped with strong analytical skills, which are vital for any business model," he elaborates.
"Landing an aircraft engineering job is not easy," Dr Cheung says. "Firstly, language proficiency is an issue. All aircraft operation manuals are written in English, which is the common language in aviation. It is also the medium of communication for flight crews, airline personnel and engineers."
It is essential for aviation engineers to be sober-minded and devoted. As the safety of the aircraft and the people on board is largely in the hands of the aircraft maintenance team, it is essential that staff complies with established procedures. Engineers are responsible for sticking to service standards at all times.
Prospective aviation engineers should expect to work under arduous circumstances. Most of their duties are performed outdoor, without the benefits of air-conditioning or shelter, so engineers will be exposed to hot sun, cold wind and heavy rain from time to time.
"Don't expect a nine-to-five work schedule either," Dr Cheung notes. "Because of the nature of the industry, frontline staff has to work in shifts. Rosters inevitably include overnight shifts and public holiday work," he adds.
"On the other hand, staff in this field can expect better remuneration than engineering counterparts working in other disciplines. In addition to this, aircraft engineers with significant work experience and excellent qualifications are assured of a range of choices along their future career path," he states.
"Apart from the financial rewards, we all like to ensure that passengers and crew travelling on our aeroplanes arrive at their destinations safely," Dr Cheung concludes. "We are also proud to be abreast of the most advanced technologies in aviation engineering, including the breakthrough delivery of giant aeroplanes such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing B787. However, we do need to learn continuously and keep ourselves updated on a daily basis. Ours is an interesting profession, which strikes a balance between innovation and compliance with existing rules and regulations."