Swire Group

Spreading their wings

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am

Aircraft engineering firm is extending its facilities to meet rising demand and is recruiting across the region

Despite rising oil prices, the aviation industry is growing with an estimated 5.7 per cent annual increase in the number of wide body aircraft in the next 10 years. Companies providing maintenance, repair and overhaul services are continuously building up their facilities to satisfy this growing demand.

Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company (Haeco) is benefiting from the fact that more airlines were outsourcing their maintenance services to Asia as the quality of these services improved.

To cater to this demand, Hong Kong-based Haeco has created subsidiaries in the mainland and Singapore and is extending its facilities.

Haeco's biggest subsidiary in China, Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering Company (Taeco) will open its fifth hangar on June 13 with a sixth under construction. The two hangars will add 66,700 square metres to the existing 160,000-square-metre space.

Naturally, increased facilities call for an enlarged workforce. Thus Haeco and its joint ventures are recruiting across the region. Taeco has increased its staff by 2,000 over the past two years and is looking for 700 new employees over the next year for its operations in Xiamen.

While companies are facing more challenges when it comes to employee retention, at Haeco, loyalty to the company is deeply embedded in its corporate culture.

'We have a great deal of loyalty resident within the company and it is our corporate culture and can-do attitude that has allowed us to extend ourselves,' said Charles Bremridge, chief operating officer.

'We have for example 42 employees who have been with the company for more than 40 years, essentially since the beginning,' added Thomas Ng Sze-ho, executive general manager of personnel.

A possible explanation for Haeco's success in retaining staff is that it invests significantly in its

employees, and trains them from scratch.

'Most of our recruits are not university graduates. Many of our best general managers started right from the bottom. Indeed, our CEO started with Haeco at age 17,' said Mr Bremridge.

The company has established training schemes for suitable new recruits to become skilled tradesmen, approved technicians and supervisors, licensed engineers and even higher positions.

The process can take up to seven years, and the training objective is to ensure that candidates possess the knowledge and practical aspects of the required technical competency as well as a sound working knowledge of English, the common language of aviation.

Chinese candidates receive their initial one to two years of training in Hong Kong, but this will change late next year when Taeco opens its own training centre in Xiamen, which will have the capacity to train up to 1,000 people a year.

A university degree is not a requirement, but candidates should demonstrate leadership skills and be committed to learning, as the industry is constantly changing with new aircraft, innovations, and technical amendments being introduced.

'There is a shortage of aircraft maintenance professionals in the world. That is why we invest heavily in training local candidates ourselves,' said Mr Ng.

Haeco and its subsidiaries focus on line maintenance, heavy aircraft maintenance, components overhaul, freighter conversions, material and asset management and fleet and inventory technical management.

'The price Haeco charges is not low compared to our competitors, but we can deliver superior quality and efficient services, and in return save overall costs for our customers,' said Mr Bremridge.

Prospective candidates must have a strong sense of responsibility, a good awareness of safety and quality standards, be enthusiastic about the job, and at the same time be flexible and adaptable to changes.

Despite obvious attractions of the job, Mr Ng said it was difficult to attract Hong Kong candidates for positions in the mainland because young graduates were less willing to work there, and remuneration packages were not on par with those in Hong Kong.

'Job opportunities for Hong Kong employees in China tend to be limited unless they already have aircraft engineering qualifications,' said Mr Bremridge.

As work in aircraft maintenance is shifting to the east, Haeco expects even more business for the future.

Extending facilities

Over the next year, Taeco will add 700 new employees to its current staff number of 4,500

The company tends to hire at the bottom and train employees for up to seven years

A new training centre in Xiamen will be capable of training up to 1,000 people a year

Successful candidates must have a high awareness of safety and quality standards

Loyalty is an important aspect of Haeco's corporate culture

Plans to build new hangars both in Hong Kong and in the mainland will create new career opportunities