Whilst coming to the end of this second academic year at Coventry, it became evident now that the tasks being provided to us were deliberately designed to show improvement in key soft skills required of us as effective engineers and future managers. The irony of this particular task for myself and the small group of us who conducted the assessment early, on pain of death were we to disclose any information to our peers, was that this early tasking secrecy was itself from a challenge I put forward the solution for.

One of our international colleagues was due to be back in Hong Kong during the week this assessment was intended to take place, so having learnt of this I thought it best we ourselves proposed a solution for the module leader. University staff do a lot to further us as individuals, and whenever possible I like to ensure that some appreciation is shown, even if it’s as simple as proposing a solution to a problem that you’re about to bring up with them. It’s a simple gesture that can often go a long way and from personal experience I know it’s a trait well worth investing in regardless of your place in the pecking order. Having managed to Shanghai some additional willing participants there and then, it was arranged at the end of that particular tutorial with the module leader that we would offer up one of our free afternoons to undertake the task early for the benefit of all involved.

The task began with a dossier being handed to us, which contained a memorandum from a board director asking for the opinion of our small panel, to determine the viability of the airline we were working for to expand its operations with the addition of 6 new aircraft to the fleet. 3 out of the 5 of us had just days before visited Monarch Aircraft Engineering at Birmingham airport, and therefore had a reasonably good understanding of the simulated environment. The viability study by us was to be conducted with regards to the technical and logistical aspects and would, in theory, lead the board to make a firm decision on the suggested expansion.

Although initially instructed to adopt and work from a particular stakeholders standpoint, it soon became apparent that regardless of any figurative label we’d be wearing overlaps in interest and questions regarding each other’s technical areas would be raised and answered by different viewpoints. Without too much conscious thought we all merged into one steering panel, however, I do believe having one definitive area of responsibility did ensure that all the necessary views were incorporated, yet there was no distinct stubbornness over any one individual’s ‘wheel-house’. This was particularly useful given that the task was time sensitive with a maximum of one hour available to us due to the difficulty in finding a suitable free space to accommodate the change in assessment day.

Having to decide if the business could handle the maintenance of 6 new A340-500’s to run 4 flights a day opening a route from Birmingham to Dubai and on to Mumbai, we came to ask questions such as, what skills or experience do our engineers have on type? Do we have hangarage options, and if so, where? Do we have the support infrastructure? Finally, could we outsource any of the work or logistics? All of which highlights the importance of understanding not just your overall place in the grand scheme of things, but also the importance of the other positions in play when working in a business.

Having in some respects abandoned the labels we were supposed to be carrying, we asked what aircraft were already in the fleet as a guide to determining the know-how of our existing engineers. Having been provided with a very large list we determined that the necessary skillsets were probably already well established within the company, as numerous other Airbus aircraft were already maintained including the A380. Due to airframers naturally working in a fairly consistent manner, the transition from one Airbus type approval to another would likely, we felt, be a mere exercise in paperwork rather than requiring costly and time-consuming training and validation.

Maintenance locations and logistical challenges were then considered after confirming that the aircraft type could in fact land at, and taxi around, the relevant airports. The current base maintenance for the company was being conducted at Birmingham International, however, we asked what would happen to an aircraft stranded in Mumbai? The obvious solution in our mind was if possible to base the A340 maintenance programme at Dubai International, as it was a more central and ferry-flight friendly option for the route in question. We then considered if there was development space available etc. at Dubai and it was then suggested that the work could be outsourced to an existing company such as Emirates. It was confirmed that Emirates engineering offers their services to external entities, and we could therefore look into potential agreements. Logistically Dubai was also a sound option with Rolls-Royce aero engine support available in the region including near 24-hour global engine delivery services if under the correct after sales through-life support plan. Furthermore, with this level of support infrastructure, we surmised that 6 aircraft would adequately cover the route with 4 flights a day operated by 4 aircraft, allowing for at least one aircraft to be in depth maintenance at any one time. Having reached the end of our allotted hour we had to briefly explain our preliminary findings, and we declared the operation extension technically viable.

The task was highly enjoyable as it had a real feeling of relevance, especially knowing full well that these sorts of decisions are made regularly in the civil aerospace market. It was an excellent opportunity to work as a team and to hone communication skills, especially in professionally expressing our personal opinions and reasoning, even under the pressure of time. If asked to perform the same task again I think I would work on improving complete group participation as those of us who had been to Monarch were very forward in our assessments of the situation and I noted afterwards perhaps sidelined our colleagues who had not been on the visit. Thinking further on this point alone, it highlights to me how easy it can be to inadvertently marginalise colleagues who don’t necessarily have the same background or experience as other members of the team. To expand on this, in any future managerial position, I think it well worth my time proactively engaging team members of different experience to both help the entire team work at its full potential and to help motivate and encourage the individual as an important part of the team.

Feedback from this task, where marks provided are out of 5, can be found here.

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