Meet Louise and Sophie, two of our women in engineering

By: Dave Gunner

June 23, 2019

We’re proud to have a diverse team of people working with us, and we’ll take any chance to celebrate them. As June 23 is National Women in Engineering day, we chatted to a couple of our female engineers, and began by asking them how they got into a career that’s typically been dominated by men.

Sophie Kelly, 27, B2 certifying engineer

Sophie decided on a career in aircraft maintenance a year after she left school. Having abandoned her first plan, to become a ballet dancer, she knew a few people who had applied for airline engineering apprenticeships and thought it sounded like a cool idea. Living in Luton, a career with Monarch was the obvious choice, but she was won over by the interview and training facilities at Virgin Atlantic and made the move south of the river.

Louise MacLeod, 35, B1 certifying engineer with C license

Louise was always drawn to the practical side of things, and as a youngster was never happier than when helping her dad fix his car. She even had her own toolbox. Later, while at school, her mum sent her to a college open day where she found out about aircraft engineering and was hooked. She studied the subject at college before applying for an apprenticeship here in 2003, and has since gone on to get her A, B and now C licenses (the latter allow her to sign off the big maintenance checks). In that time she’s also had two children and spent time in some of the office-based engineering teams.

View from the office. Photo by Louise

What’s the day job?

Both Sophie and Louise have progressed in their careers to the point where they are certifying engineers. This means they’re responsible for signing off work on an aircraft after completion. It takes years of experience and studying to reach this level. It also comes with a massive amount of responsibility. They both work in our Gatwick engineering team which means they split their time between ‘the line’ and the hangar. The line involves meeting aircraft as they land, doing the daily checks and fixing any defects if and when they occur. The hangar is for the scheduled inputs where the less regular work and bigger jobs take place. But there the similarity ends, because, like doctors, our engineers take up specialities.

Sophie has a B2 license which means she works mainly on avionics and electronics. This covers everything from inflight entertainment, engine management systems and all those instruments on the flight deck. She loves the challenge of finding and fixing faults in such complex systems even if that does mean occasionally having to squeeze into small spaces and work with very fiddly wiring looms and connectors.

Louise has the B1 license which means she works primarily on engines and airframes. For her, the job satisfaction comes from seeing a job through from beginning to end, working in a team and juggling complex tasks to tight time frames.

This video was made by Sophie to explain her career in Virgin Atlantic engineering

Sophie and Louise have a lot in common when it comes to their careers. Both are keen to praise the support they get from their teams, their managers and from a couple of internal initiatives aimed at helping women succeed in their careers. The Scarlet Network is an internal group whose dictum is ‘Taking women to the next level’, and their aim is to improve the lives of women and help progress their careers. They achieve this by holding networking sessions, bringing in some brilliant and inspirational guest speakers and by developing and sharing skills. It’s about letting women know that we recognise their talent, have got their backs and support them if they want to do more. The other initiative that both Sophie and Louise are keen to celebrate is our Springboard course, a personal and professional development programme, designed and delivered by women for women. It gives women at Virgin Atlantic the skills and confidence to make meaningful changes and improvements in their careers and their personal lives.

Louise, on the line at Gatwick (inspecting the engine nearest the wingtip)

What advice would you give to a young person thinking of a career in STEM?

Sophie:Don’t let other people’s opinions stop you from doing it. If you’re interested in something, find out as much as you can and go for it.

Louise: Get your maths, science and English qualifications then look for apprenticeships. Try and find mentors or see if there’s a women’s engineering society you can join.

Both Sophie and Louise are now starting to mentor other people at Virgin Atlantic, passing on the knowledge they’ve built up over the years. Our engineering team covers an astounding amount of technical and scientific expertise, and a number of different disciplines from office-based to the front line. It’s a career that offers great progression and variety.

An aircraft is an incredibly complex machine. The Boeing 747 has six million parts and 171 miles of wiring. Our engineering team do an amazing job, day in day out, keeping our aircraft in tip top condition. As certifying engineers, Louise and Sophie are right at the heart of that incredibly important function. We hate to think there may be young girls out there right now who might not think they can do this kind of work. Our message to them is: You absolutely can.

Dave Gunner

Dave Gunner

I love telling the story of our people, our planes, our places and our planet through Ruby Blog.

Categories: Our People