Ben Lee, owner and director of European Airline Solutions (EAS) looks back on his career in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and why apprenticeships are a great way of encouraging fresh talent into the industry.
Given that my whole family worked at Britannia Airways in Luton where I was born, my future career had already been mapped out. During the 1990s, my mum, dad and family members all forged careers there. I followed them by starting an apprenticeship in 1998 - and I guess the rest is history.
As an only child, I always knew I had to look after myself. It helped me see the benefits of doing a vocational course where I would be able to train and be paid rather than go to university. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to be a huge advocate for apprenticeships. Having experienced one myself, I cannot express strongly enough how incredible they are and I see them as the best way to encourage new, fresh talent into the industry.
The four years of my apprenticeship were intense, not just in terms of the hands-on learning but in terms of change within the industry too. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was formed in 2002 which led to significant licensing changes. It was an exciting time to be starting out in the industry because it was the beginning of the transition to what we now know as Part-145.
With the changes that were taking place at the time, unlike today, we were one of the only cohorts of students who finished our apprenticeships and didn’t have a license, so I had to continue to study afterwards. This self-development has fuelled my belief in continuous study for everyone who works within the industry. It’s something I continue to talk about when speaking to young people who are thinking about what they want to do in the future. This industry never gets boring as there is always something new to learn.
Two years after I finished my apprenticeship, I got a job on the AOG team. It was my dream role as I was travelling the world fixing aircraft. I visited some incredible places and experienced some unbelievable things. It’s another aspect of the role I use when talking to young people about the benefits of working in our industry - the travel, the culture, the experiences and get paid for it!
In 2009, my family relocated to South Wales and we’re based close to Bro Tathan, the MRO centre of excellence in Wales. I’m the owner and director of European Airline Solutions (EAS) and working alongside my business partner, we’ve developed a company that designs and manufactures a range of ground support equipment (GSE) and ground handling accessories for a global client base.
Our most recent project has seen us design, fit out and deliver aircraft tooling and GSE for a new MRO in the North of England. Because we are engineers and aircraft operations people that design and supply for customers and airport operations, we understand the issues and have solutions for them. The business is going from strength to strength, and we are the fastest growing GSE company in Europe.
Alongside the developing and running of a business, I’m also an ambassador for Aerospace Wales, a members organisation looking after all aerospace, space and defence companies in Wales - and a founding member of Wales’s MRO Hub. The MRO Hub includes 10 members who work collaboratively to offer enhanced through-life services to airlines and lessors. I use my work with the Hub and Aerospace Wales to actively encourage new talent in to the industry so that other people can have the same incredible career experiences that I have had.
If there’s one thing I want to look back on my career, it’s that I have helped inspire and develop new talent in this industry. I know I was helped, supported and advised along the way by fantastic tutors, colleagues and family. The next generation of aviators will need that from us all.