In this week’s episode of Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport, you had the chance to meet two members of the engineering team — Zoe and Suky — as they raced to fix a vital piece of equipment that provides air traffic control with weather and visibility data.
You saw them pack up their van with equipment and head out on to the airfield to do some maintenance on what they call a ‘Dalek’.
Zoe, who is currently training with NATS as an Engineering Technician, tells us a bit more about her role at Britain’s biggest and busiest international airport…
My interest in engineering started when I was around 14 years old. I loved roller coasters and going to theme parks and was interested in how they worked and how the engineers fixed them when they broke down. I asked my teachers at high school about completing an engineering GCSE but they deterred me from doing it, which I still regret to this day.
When it came to college, I decided to study engineering. I have had an interest in aviation from a very young age and my dad (who works for Airside Safety at Heathrow) luckily got me some work experience in engineering at the airport. From all of this experience, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.
My path into NATS is an interesting one. I attended a friends and family day at Heathrow Airport when I walked over to the NATS stand. I started talking to the NATS representative and I told them I was looking for an apprenticeship and he told me NATS was hiring. When I got home that day, I applied and the rest is history. I started off working in two different departments at the control centre in Swanwick before transferring to Heathrow a year later.
I still have lots of training left to do. At the moment, I am trying to complete an Airport Unit Endorsement. This tests my knowledge and practical skills on many different systems and if I’m successful, I can be awarded competencies within that system. This is training I am completing to prepare me for a Duty Engineering Officer role in the future.
What I love about engineering is that it is a practical job. You get to go out on the airfield and fix faults physically. I don’t think I could do a job where I was sitting in the office all day.
There are many reasons I love working at Heathrow but my favourite thing is working with my team. They’re like a big family and we work together to get the job done effectively, efficiently and safely. I also like to look out of the tower windows at times and whilst watching a plane take off, think to myself how lucky I am to be here.
I also like the fact that we have an important job to do. It means that we look after all of the air traffic control engineering systems so that flights can depart and land on time and passengers are safe at all times. It is a very rewarding job.
The normal day in the life of me (ATCE 6 Engineer) is to come in, listen to the handover (maintenance task, current faults etc) and create a plan with my colleagues to get certain tasks done. We would grab the equipment, head to the site and complete the maintenance. Some days are quieter than others but there is always work to be done at an airport as big as Heathrow.
We handle an array of equipment such as the Instrument Landing System (used to help aircraft land in low visibility), SAMOS (MET Office – Weather), IRVR (Visual Range), Surface Wind, SDPS (Surveillance Data Processing) and Surface Movement Radars… the list goes on. Don’t forget, we have two runways at Heathrow so we tend to have at least two of everything!
My main career ambition was to work in aviation and work at Heathrow which I have achieved relatively quickly in my career – and I’m very proud and grateful for this! My main career ambition at the moment is to become a NATS Duty Engineering Officer, and who knows from then on.
Anyone who is thinking about a career in engineering, do it. If you have the enthusiasm and passion and are willing to work hard, then you could be a fantastic engineer.
Are you interested in a career in engineering at NATS? We’re launching a new Early Careers programme in November, with entry level opportunities available. Register your interest online here.
Watch the episode of Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport on itv Player.
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