James Spittel is a third-year aircraft engineering apprentice with British Airways and is currently based at Heathrow Airport.

As part of his apprenticeship, James is working towards obtaining a Category A licence, which will enable him to work as an aircraft technician.

We recently interviewed James to find out more about his experience as an apprentice and how the programme is supporting him to achieve his career ambitions.

Why did you choose an apprenticeship in aircraft engineering?

“My dad is an aircraft engineer with TUI at Luton Airport, and he arranged a work experience placement for me while I was still at school. I enjoyed it so much that I went back to do more!

“I knew then that this was the career path I wanted to follow, and an apprenticeship seemed like the best way forward – a chance to gain the licence I needed to work as an aircraft engineer while learning on the job.”

How did the application process work?

“I originally applied for an apprenticeship with Monarch, before the airline went into administration. I wasn’t successful at first, so ended up going to college for a year, but the second time I applied I made the final cut.

“It was quite a rigorous application process. The assessment phase involved multiple days at their training school, and I had to take both a written and practical exam.

“About a hundred applicants were then shortlisted for interview, where we had to present something we’d made, and I was one of around 20 applicants accepted onto the apprenticeship scheme. It was quite an achievement!”

What was the start of your apprenticeship like?

“I started my apprenticeship with Monarch in 2018, based at Luton Airport. The first few months were quite varied and involved a mix of theory and learning practical skills in the workshop to prepare us for work in the hangar.

“However, the airline had gone into administration and it was quite a worrying time. We were lucky to be taken on by British Airways, and from May 2019 I was able to continue my apprenticeship with BA, based at the airline’s engineering hangars at Heathrow.

“In addition to learning theory and practical skills, we were also given the opportunity to take part in month-long placements to gain experience in different areas of the business. Eventually these placements increased to six months, with even more opportunities to put our skills into practice.”

What support have you received while on programme?

“The support has been incredible – there’s always someone I can go to if I have a question or problem.

“I meet with my apprenticeship coaches at Seetec and apprenticeship managers at British Airways once a fortnight, either virtually or in person, and I can go to them at other times if there’s something I need a bit more support with. There are also staff in each area of the business that we can go to with day-to-day queries.”

“In addition, we meet with our NVQ assessors monthly and have a review with Seetec every three months to ensure we’re hitting our targets. This provides reassurance that we’re on track and helps us to understand our next steps.”

What have been the highlights of your apprenticeship so far?

“The highlight for me has definitely been the opportunity to rotate across different areas of the business during my placements. It’s given me so much exposure to different aspects of aircraft engineering.

“For example, working in the terminals primarily involves turning around aircraft so they’re ready for their next flight. This is very different to working in the Casualty Area, which is for bigger jobs when more advanced work needs to be carried out on an aircraft.”

What do you hope to gain from the apprenticeship?

“The number one priority for me is to gain my A Licence. I only have one more exam to take in January, and by the time I finish my final placement I will have recorded enough evidence to be able to apply for this.

“I’m hopeful that when demand for flights picks up next year following the pandemic, there may well be a permanent job for me at British Airways.

“In a few years I’d like to work towards my B Licence and eventually move into a management role. There are lots of opportunities to progress within the industry.

“The apprenticeship has already given me such a good grounding in aircraft engineering and I’m really excited about the future. It’s hard work and you have to be dedicated, but I would recommend the apprenticeship route to anyone looking to pursue a career in this field.”

For more information about the level 3 Aircraft Maintenance Technician apprenticeship, please visit our dedicated programme page.