Plane sailing

With an estimated 1.5 million people living within a 90-minute catchment area covering Norfolk, Suffolk and North Cambridgeshire, Norwich Airport is the busiest airport in the East Anglia region of the UK. Relocating to its present-day location on the site of a former RAF base in 1970, it today serves close to 500,000 passengers per year, flying to destinations including Manchester, Edinburgh, Jersey, Amsterdam, Alicante and Tenerife.

The same year that Norwich Airport first occupied what is now its home base, the airline that was known as Air Anglia was formed from the merger of three operators – Anglian Air Charter, Norfolk Airways and Rig Air. Ten years on, it would itself enter into a merger with British Island Airways, Air Wales and Air Westward to form AirUK, which quickly became the biggest regional airline and the third largest scheduled operator in the UK. It was then in 1998, following a large-scale share purchase of AirUK by KLM, that the company was first rebranded to KLM UK, before ultimately becoming KLM UK Engineering Limited in 2003. Focused on heavy maintenance, it is today wholly owned by the AFI KLM E&M Network, and forms part of its worldwide subsidiary.

“KLM UK Engineering has built up its reputation within the marketplace by being experts in the field of narrow body and regional aircraft maintenance,” explains Managing Director, Peter van der Horst. “We are particularly well-known for the experience and knowledge we have built up by delivering services such as base maintenance, line maintenance, component sales, technical training and decommissioning with aircraft including Bae146/Avro RJ’s, Fokker 70/100’s, Boeing 737’s, and most recently Airbus’ A320’s and the Embraer 170/190 EJet.”

Through continuous investment in lean principles, KLM UK Engineering ensures that its customers receive excellent products and services, delivered via outstanding technical skill and to exacting quality requirements. These services are provided from its five fully equipped modern heavy maintenance bays across three hangars. Also present is an extensive on-site workshop supporting all base maintenance activities, providing industry leading standards when it comes to modifications, repairs, overhaul, NDT, paint shop, trim bay, and composite and component repairs.

With Norwich Airport’s excellent links to Europe making it easy for KLM UK Engineering’s customers to fly in for maintenance it has provided the perfect base for the company’s operations for more than 40 years. In that time, it has built up a workforce of approximately 370 people across its maintenance and support departments, with many having been originally trained as apprentices and its longest serving team member having been with the company for 43 years.

Believing firmly in the idea of ‘growing its own’, KLM UK Engineering has played an important role in helping to inspire and train the next generation of aviation engineers for over 30 years, and has recently moved into a new facility dubbed International Aviation Academy – Norwich. “This brand new, purpose built facility houses not only classrooms and workshops for students, but also a live Boeing 737 Classic Generation aircraft within the emulation zone, which allows students to get hands on,” Peter enthuses. “This new facility is located next to the existing maintenance hangars making it an inspirational place to work and study, and close to the main hub of the business.”

The company also works in partnership with various colleges and universities to deliver apprenticeships and degree programmes that incorporate EASA courses and the B1.1 Licence. “In recent years, we have also developed a variety of online training courses, which include EASA CAT A, B 1.1 and B2 Licence, Fuel Tank Safety, Human Factors and Electrical Wiring Interconnect System (EWIS),” Peter adds. “These can be studied anywhere, anytime via our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), which was launched a couple of years ago to great feedback from its users.”

As Peter goes on to note, a few years ago the aviation industry identified a global shortage of aircraft engineers and this is a skills gap that urgently needs to be filled. “We are committed to, and passionate about, training the next wave of engineers and we have been making this a reality through a combination of our own apprenticeship scheme, degree programmes and the retraining of existing industry engineers. We believe strongly in the need to support our engineers, running a night school to help them to gain relevant qualifications, and we also look to embrace the knowledge and skills possessed by the high percentage of ex-military personnel that we have in our ranks.”

As the company navigates the first few months of 2018, the plan is very much to continue down the path that it has carved out for itself in recent years. “Our focus will remain fixed in the short-to-medium term on staff engagement and operational excellence, as this has proven to be the best way of providing our customers with the best service and experience,” Peter concludes. “In the longer run, our level of experience when it comes to working with newer aircraft will continue to develop and will allow us to further promote our aircraft type training courses to both individuals and the wider industry.”

KLM UK Engineering Limited
Leading regional aircraft and narrow body MRO
Wholly owned by AFI KLM E&M Network
2017 turnover of almost £30 million