It’s not often that the general public have an opportunity to go behind the scenes within the aviation industry but, on the 23rd March, KLM UK Engineering hosted an open day event at their UK Headquarters. Adam Duffield and Duncan Monk attended on behalf of AeroResource.

Tucked away at Norwich Airport and out of sight from many people are 3 large hangars belonging to the Maintenance Repair Organisation KLM UK Engineering. Whilst based at Norwich for over 40 years it is a company that has grown from a number of acquisitions and mergers. From its formation as a regional airline under Air Anglia in 1970, a subsequent merger to form AirUK in 1980 it was only in 1997 did the KLM brand form part of its identity when it was renamed KLM UK. With KLM UK being taken over by KLM Cityhopper in 2003 the engineering aspect became KLM UK Engineering which today is part of the wider Air France/KLM group.

Despite the KLM name, the engineering work undertaken by the company covers a number of well-known operators such as Transavia and Cityjet. With around 375 staff in total and 5 maintenance lines spread across the 3 hangars they deal with around 85 (in 2012) aircraft per year covering work ranging from quick maintenance checks through to full strip downs and, if required, the complete breakdown and recycling of aircraft.

Joining around 200 people in the first of two open sessions being run that afternoon we were led into the first hangar to join our tour group and be shown around the facilities. The first stop was one of two connecting hangars that house a pair of maintenance lines each. Inside were two Fokker 70’s both under heavy maintenance that is expected to take a total of 24-27 days to complete. Whilst the tour was taking place work on the aircraft continued with staff left undisturbed by the public gathering inside the hangar. In order to ensure fast turnaround of aircraft work takes place 24/7 with a 4 on/4 off shift pattern being used however overnight work is kept to time critical elements and the bulk of activity takes place during the standard working week. The Fokker 70, is the main aircraft used  for KLM’s regional Cityhopper routes and a key aircraft type for the company who also service BAe 146/Avro RJ and Boeing 737s including the Next Generation aircraft. Following recent certification the company will also be expanding into the Airbus 320 maintenance market during 2013 bringing in more business and potentially clients.

The second hangar we were to visit is attached to the first by a small maintenance corridor. Whilst the main walkway is flanked by machine shops it is the contents of the hallway itself that is of particular interest. In order keep track of materials used on a particular job and to subsequently recover costs, an automated vending machine style system is used. Each engineer is issued with a unique card that is used to access a touch screen console containing an inventory of available items. One selected, the item is recorded as taken and the relevant locker door containing it is unlocked so it can be collected. This system ensures that all items being used can be accounted for and charged to the correct maintenance project.

In the second hangar another 2 maintenance lines are found. The first contained an Avro RJ undergoing heavy maintenance which included the removal of 2 of the 4 Avro Lycoming LF507 engines from the aircraft. One had been moved to an area accessible for the visitors enabling a close up look at the complex pipe work and wiring present along with a number of interior and exterior panelling sections. Whilst the company have facilities on site for engine maintenance when removed from the aircraft, the preference is that any work is carried out with the power plant in situ and removal is only undertaken if absolutely necessary. Also being worked on at the time were the fuel tank areas which, on the Avro RJ, is accessed from the top of the aircraft where the wing joins the main fuselage. Just visible from the ground level were the feet of an engineer laid head first into the tank in order to gain access. The tanks are vented  of harmful gasses and in order to effect quick and easy egress from the tank in the event on an emergency the engineer lies on a slide system by which he can easily be pulled upwards by the another engineer who oversees the operation.

On the other side of the hangar were two aircraft brought in as examples of other aviation types that are present at the airport. The Piper PA-28 and Sikorsky S-76 operated by Bristow Helicopters who run a number of oil and gas rig contracts from the airport. Whilst not worked on directly by KLM UKE, the close ties with other companies that are based at the airport are important to them. Other companies such as Air Livery offer services that complement those available from KLM UKE and help to attract business with the ability to carry out all work in a single location. Also present were a pair of dock units that look very similar to a scaffold type structure. These units have been custom made for 737 and it is hoped will be fit for  work starting on the Airbus A320’s, enabling engineers quickly and easily reach all areas of the aircrafts tail section under complete safety.

The final stop of the tour brought us back into the hangar that we gathered in which itself was part of the original WW2 airbase of RAF Horsham St Faith that was based on the site and a number of different aircraft over the years including Spitfires, Bristol Blenheim’s and B-24 Liberators. However, inside the hangar today was a much more modern Boeing 737 undergoing a small ’C’ check. The check, one of the shortest undertaken, was nearing completion and the interior in the process of being refitted giving a rare opportunity to take a look at the cabin of the aircraft devoid of its usual seating. This refitting process normally take the majority of the time and in this instance new carpets had been fitted which alone cost over £10,000 once the required fabric testing has taken place.

At ground level there was not only a chance to have a close up inspection of one of the two CFM56-7 engines that power the 737 but to also look around a number of stands ranging from the history of airport, a local flight school and the opportunity to try your hand at aircraft marshalling. A number of practical exhibits were also on display to show some of the training aids that are used within the facility including rigs for identifying electrical faults and how to correctly tension wire cabling.

There was also a chance to talk to a number of staff, and more importantly apprentices, about their roles.  KLM UK Engineering run an apprenticeship scheme in conjunction with the East Anglian Group for Industrial Training (EAGIT) based in Norwich aimed at individuals who are 16+ and is designed to provide individuals with the academic and practical skills to become an Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Mechanic.

KLM Engineering Apprenticeships

The places available on the apprenticeship scheme are highly sort after and very oversubscribed. During a morning session that was run to focus purely on the apprenticeship scheme over 250 hopefuls attended in the hope of securing one of just 8 available positions. The qualifications on offer at the end of the four-year scheme are extremely desirable to those wishing to pursue a lucrative career in aviation engineering, and with small numbers of places available for the 2013 intake in August, the need to stand out from the crowd is imperative.

The course runs over 4 years based on the following structure –

Year 1 – A 26 week training course with EAGIT followed by experience within KLM UKE’s support departments

Year 2 – Commencement of NVQ and studying for the City & Guilds 2675 & EASA Part 66 category A aircraft mechanics licence at your own technical college together with training at KLM UKE

Year 3 – On the job training within the KLM UKE workshops working on aircraft components and further developing hand skills. During this year the apprentice will rotate through the airframe, electrical, component and composite bays

Year 4 – Apprentices transfer to the hangars and start working on aircraft in maintenance

At the end of the four year apprenticeship scheme the apprentices will achieve the following qualifications:

Advanced NVQ level 3 in mechanical engineering

City & Guilds 2675 aeronautical engineering

EASA Part 66 category A licence (subject to achieving 75% or above in all modules taken)

The selection process is tough and has a number of pre-requisites including a minimum of 3 GCSE’s including Maths, English and a Science (all at Grade C or above), the passing of the KLM UKE selection exam, a passion for engineering and an enthusiastic approach to work.
The scheme is not easy, with apprentices expected to work a 38.5 hour week including some shift and weekend work during periods of practical training. However, time off in lieu is granted for weekend working.
KLM UKE also supply the apprentices with everything they need with regard to safety equipment including overalls, safety shoes, protective goggles and hi viz jacket. In addition, all apprentices are supplied with their own basic apprentice tool box with the cost deducted from their salary during year 4 of the scheme (and at discounted rates).

Apprentices can expect some benefits during their training at KLMUKE with a minimum of 4 weeks holiday per year, plus bank holidays on offer. A stakeholder pension scheme and a staff social club scheme are also available.

The selection process is split into 4 stages with the stages of selection for 2013 as follows:

Stage 1 – Submission of an application form to:

Mrs Holly Sadd
HR Department
KLM UK Engineering Limited
Liberator Road
Norfolk, NR6 6ER

Stage 2 – Short listed applicants will be invited for the pre selection exam at KLM UK Engineering in Norwich, which takes place 28 – 31 May 2013. Following the exam applicants have the opportunity to meet the KLM UK Engineering management team for an informal chat

Stage 3 – Interviews take place week commencing 24th June 2013.

Stage 4 – successful applicants from stage 3 will be offered an apprenticeship by mid July, to commence on the scheme on the 27th August 2013.

If you are interested in joining KLMUKE or have any questions, contact the HR team; or by telephoning 01603 254513.

AeroResource would like to thank KLM UK Engineering for their hospitality during the event and are especially grateful to Annabel Love for arranging our access and Alex Segens for the tour and answering our many questions