Karen Cheung Wing-sze would have loved to be a pilot but failed the eyesight requirements for the job. Being short-sighted, she gave up the idea of flying planes and instead turned to aircraft maintenance. After graduating from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) in Tsing Yi with a higher diploma in aircraft maintenance engineering, Cheung joined the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company as a trainee. “
Aircraft maintenance staff have a huge responsibility. A small mistake could lead to a disaster,” Cheung says. The job is physically demanding. It involves moving and installing plane compartments.
“On a sunny day, the temperature on the airfield could go up to more than 40 degrees Celsius,” Cheung says. “During rainy days, we put on a raincoat but [we] still get soaked from head to toe. Lifting tasks such as moving a plane wheel is tough, especially for a girl like me. The wheel is up to my chin, [so] I can’t see clearly. In this situation, I always ask for help.”
Mak Chiu-ki, senior lecturer at theIVE department of engineering, says it takes seven to 10 years for a trainee to be promoted to engineer.
“After two years as a trainee and passing examinations, one receives a licence from the Hong Kong Aviation Department to become an aircraft technician. Outstanding performers have a chance to become a supervisor who will lead a team of technicians. The next step is assistant engineer, then engineer,” he says. An aircraft technician’s working hours depend on whether he is assigned to line or base maintenance.
Line maintenance is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job. Technicians work two 12-hour shifts around the clock with two days off after working four shifts.
Base maintenance is less demanding with no overnight shifts and just a five-day working week. Technicians generally work from 8am to 5pm but staff may have to work overtime to meet deadlines.
Mak sees a bright future in the industry. He predicts the demand for aircraft in Asia, especially on the mainland, will increase. He says that in the next 20 years, Asia will need 5,000 more planes and 27,000 extra technicians. The annual salary of a trainee technician is approximately HK$120,000 to HK$140,000, including bonuses and overtime. Aircraft engineers make HK$30,000 to HK$50,000 a month.