This morning I arrived at work, passport in hand, ready to start my last month of my placement in Thomson’s Hanger 61 in Luton. Unfortunately, I wasn’t jetting off to any of our sunny destinations – simply on my way to the Supply Chain office.
The part of the hanger that I work in is ‘airside’, which means that everything and everyone in it has to go through airport style security to gain access. Every morning I check I don’t have any forbidden liquids lurking in the bottom of my bag, take off my shoes, keep my fingers crossed as I go through the scanner and pack everything back up. First task of the day completed.
The hanger operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with teams of engineers and support staff maintaining the TUI fleet. It can fit 3 of our aircraft at one time and is constantly being altered and improved to make the most of the space. Currently, there are plans to adapt the building to make sure that our new 787s can fit inside in the future.
The costs involved in running any airline are understandably huge, so Thomson is extremely target driven to make sure we can maintain our fleet in the most economical way possible. Every minute of the engineers’ time and every nut they use are accounted for. Putting a plane in the air relies on thousands of parts and Thomson works with hundreds of suppliers to ensure that these parts are delivered on time when repairs or replacements need to be carried out. My placement in Supply Chain involves creating new strategies to develop more cost-efficient relationships with our suppliers. I’m also establishing a KPI Framework so that supplier performance can be monitored and managed more closely.
One of the things I love about working in the hanger is being constantly surprised at what running an airline actually involves. Researching what we were buying from a particular supplier, I saw that we spent over a thousand pounds on tray tables. My colleague quickly corrected me that it was over a thousand pounds PER tray table; a lot of money for a grey piece of plastic. In one supplier meeting I was shown wallpaper samples. Have you ever even noticed that a plane has wallpaper? Take a look next time. Someone has spent many hours choosing and purchasing just the right shade of cream, grey or beige and combination of tiny dots or squares.
One of the highlights of our Graduate Induction week in October was having a guided tour of the hanger and seeing our planes when they’re being refurbished. However, having learnt so much over the past few months in Supply Chain, it was great to go on another tour last week to see exactly what the parts I had been dealing with looked like and where they fitted into the aircraft. I still managed to end up asking questions such as ‘Why do the pilots have fluffy seats?’ and got very excited about having a photo taken of myself in the cockpit. But it was also fascinating to see lots of things I didn’t know took place in the hanger, such as toilet seats being sprayed inside a sealed room and rows of sewing machines being used to finish off carpets for the planes.
It’s almost impossible to get your head round the mammoth amount of work that goes into keeping the daily flight operation running smoothly. 3,900 people work for our airline, including 350 engineers and 300 support staff, and this placement has been a great opportunity to see what happens at the sharp end. Apart from learning more about the airline industry than I thought possible, including 100 new acronyms, working at the hanger for 3 months has made me very protective of our planes, so watch out if you’re flying with me…
‘That window seal you’re picking costs a grand!’
Emma Bean (UK Commercial Graduate)