KLM UK Engineering champions equality in the aviation industry

With a strong reputation in the aviation industry, KLM UK Engineering Ltd (KLM UK) stands out as a top provider of maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services for commercial aircrafts. The company’s expertise covers certain regional and narrow body aircraft types, and its operations encompass six fully equipped modern base maintenance bays spread across three hangars. From servicing Avro, Boeing and Embraer aircraft to offering parking, and storage solutions, KLM UK is committed to delivering excellence. The organization stays ahead of competitors through continuous investments in its people and facilities as showcased by its new fully furnished workshop facility, furnished with the latest equipment. Paul Conway, Business Development and Sales Director, talks us through the company’s journey.

“KLM UK is part of the Air France KLM group – a joint venture between Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. We report to KLM Engineering and Maintenance, which is the technical division of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. As a standalone UK entity, our specialization lies in being an MRO business, specifically focusing on airframe maintenance. This involves servicing the aircraft itself, excluding the engines, undercarriages, and components. Historically, we originated from Norwich airport as Air Anglia, which merged with other regional airlines, Air Westward, Air Wales and British Island Airways. These small regional airlines have mostly phased out due to the rise of low-cost carriers and industry changes. Air UK emerged from this union and operated from the former Air Anglia facilities at Norwich airport. During that time, it was a full-service airline with physical ticketing and reservations teams. Air UK specialized in short connections and regional connectivity, feeding smaller regional airports like Norwich into Amsterdam airport. This is where the relationship with Royal Dutch Airlines KLM began and their stake in the business gradually increased. In the late 1990s, Air UK was rebranded as KLM UK. Eventually, KLM UK transformed into KLM UK Engineering, and the airline merged with KLM Cityhopper, a regional feeder, in the early 2000s,” he begins.

Training programs
Besides the MRO services it is known for, KLM UK has gained a reputation for its training program, which Paul discusses in detail. “Our three key products are base maintenance, which involves working in heavy hangars, line maintenance, which is the lighter maintenance performed outside, and our technical training programs. We have always trained our own staff, and I am a product of that as I was an apprentice in the first batch of Air UK apprentices in 1984. I am proud that we continue to train our own staff at our amazing academy, which is located close to our facility. The academy is actually housed in an old World War Two Royal Air Force maintenance hangar. It was stripped back to its bare metal skeleton and then rebuilt while retaining the original steel structure, which was in excellent condition. This year, we are significantly increasing the number of apprentices to 16, which is fantastic. Additionally, we offer degree courses in partnership with City College Norwich, providing a higher qualification level. We also conduct technical courses for experienced and qualified engineers. For example, if someone wants to become approved on the Boeing 737 aircraft, we can deliver a course that typically takes around six weeks. This is followed by practical training where the participants work on the actual aircraft. Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects within our academy is the presence of a fully functional Boeing 737. The aircraft has retractable undercarriage, and we create a real-world environment for students and trainees to work in as they must follow the same documentation, standards, and procedures as they would in an actual hangar. It’s a wonderful learning environment where mistakes can be rectified, and instructors intentionally introduce defects for the students to troubleshoot and fix,” he describes.

Championing change
The company is dedicated to promoting greater participation of young women in this traditionally male-dominated industry. “It’s evident when you walk through our hangars that the number of women in overalls is far outweighed by that of men, so there is still work to be done. Interestingly, in 1984, there were four apprentices in my cohort, one of whom was Sarah. She became the apprentice of the year, outperforming the three male apprentices. However, frustratingly, she didn’t stay in the industry. So, that’s an example of the challenges we face which we are actively trying to tackle. Within the business, we have a Women in Engineering group that provides a platform for women to voice their experiences and suggest improvements. As a man, I don’t personally encounter the same frustrations and challenges that our female colleagues do, so I think it’s essential for me and other men to listen and learn from them.

“We have some incredible women in the business who contribute significantly. In fact, before Wayne Easlea became our managing director, we had a Dutch female director who was a strong advocate for promoting gender diversity. I believe we need to challenge the perception that this career path is not suitable for women. The industry hasn’t done enough to promote it as a viable career option for women. The current lack of female representation in the sector emphasizes the work that needs to be done. We recognize this and are actively working to address it, although it’s not something that can be fixed quickly. Despite our efforts, I recall that out of the 16 apprentices this year, only three will be female, which is a step in the right direction but falls short of our desired goal,” he concludes.

Through training initiatives that unlock diverse potential and actively preparing for new technologies within air travel, such as hydrogen power, KLM UK ensures the sustainability of its business by leveraging every employee’s expertise and contribution as well as embracing the need for change.