Cathay Pacific

Apprentice with the goods gets off to a flying start

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2006, 12:00am

Haeco GM Yeung Yu-cheong says the job calls for an interest in mechanical or electrical engineering - and a natural curiosity

WHEN I ARRIVE at work at 7.30am, my first task is to supervise the change of shifts. We operate round the clock, seven days a week, and we handle about 80 per cent of the freight aircraft that use the airport.

Most of the cargo planes, such as DHL, UPS and FedEx, arrive between 10pm and 4am for line maintenance servicing. So this is our busiest time. Most of these planes require only a routine check to ensure their essential systems are in working order. If the captain reports a malfunction, we try to fix the problem promptly.

At about 9am every day, technical staff and engineers are called in for a briefing and to discuss their specific duties and the aircraft they are working on, be it Boeing or Airbus, passenger or freight plane.

Around 9.30am, I attend a formal meeting with the check controllers. They give me aircraft progress reports and updates and specify their tasks and targets for the day.

Sometimes their checks reveal structural problems or cracks, which must be fixed. If the fault lies outside our standard procedures, or what we call the structural repair manual, we contact Boeing or Airbus to authorise the repair work or send further instructions.

Because space is restricted in a hangar, you have to make sure that things are going smoothly and well. Any delay in servicing an aircraft could cause delays for the other aircraft. The sequencing and positioning of planes is therefore very important.

Planning is an important part of the job. Most of my day is spent arranging repair schedules with airlines and clients or meeting customers to discuss operational matters.

When I left school in 1971, I took up aircraft maintenance as a trainee with the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (Haeco) at Kai Tak airport.

I was an apprentice for three years, studying areas of the profession, from manual skills to the technical and engineering aspects.

At the beginning it was more classroom training, but in the later stages I took on a more operational role, becoming a mechanic, then a licensed engineer, supervisor and, finally, a general manager in 1991.

The work is challenging. Aviation technology continues to be the most advanced technological field to work in, with changes occurring every day. New aircraft types, parts and materials emerge on a daily basis, and this heightens the dynamism of our working day.

To enjoy a successful career in aircraft maintenance, you must have an interest in either mechanical engineering or electrical engineering. As a child, I loved to take toys apart to find out how they worked.

You need to be naturally inquisitive, and you need a knowledge of subjects such as physics, maths or electronics.

Finally, you have to be hard-working to get through the apprenticeship.

You are required to study and understand the mechanics of various aircraft to earn a licence. It could mean dirty work occasionally - changing engine parts, going into fuel tanks and even changing the waste tanks. Every system of the aircraft becomes part of your working life.