International Women in Engineering Day 2024

Category: AirTanker


On June 23, 2024, we come together to honour the remarkable contributions of women engineers worldwide. International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED24) celebrates unwavering dedication and innovative spirit.

To highlight this day, we spoke to Heather about her career in engineering. Take a look at what she said below.

Hi Heather! Tell us about your current role and how it relates to engineering? 

For nearly ten years, I’ve been part of AirTanker. Recently, I transitioned to the Safety team, leaving behind a lengthy tenure as a systems engineer. Both roles, in their own way, epitomise engineering—rooted in understanding, extrapolation, and the relentless pursuit of “but what if…’.

My current role involves leading a team that delves into all areas of the business. While it’s impossible to be an expert in every domain, we leverage our solid aviation foundation and apply sound engineering principles. Our investigations unravel root causes (understanding), analyse data (extrapolation), and pinpoint necessary mitigations (tackling the ‘what ifs’).

Engineering isn’t a solitary endeavour. Within our business, collaboration is key, so it’s crucial that we are able to communicate outputs of our investigations to the wider community. That’s where the Data Development aspect of my role comes in, using my engineering background to make data meaningful to everyone.

How did you get into your role?    

Since my university days studying Aeronautical Engineering and binge-watching National Geographic, I’ve harboured a fascination with Air Accident Investigation. Aviation safety is that delicate blend of engineering and genuine concern for people (not just cold metal), and that captivates me. My tenure as a systems engineer—managing the fleet’s continued airworthiness, expanded my engineering horizons. But when the opportunity arose for a role that would tap into my human factors expertise, I seized it.

It was good timing for me, as I’d recently returned from two lots of maternity leave in quick succession and was trying to work out how to balance home and work while still having some options for career progression. I’m so grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to tackle this role and make it my own, on a part time basis that allows me to be present for my little ones.

Tell us about your career history, did you always want to work in engineering?

When I was younger I wanted to be a Volcanologist. For me, it was the perfect balance of science and the outdoors. But a few too many jokes about Star Trek and the realisation I wasn’t that good at geography made my 15-year-old self reconsider. I liked school, I liked Physics, Maths and Wood Tech so I stayed on to do my A-levels without really knowing what I wanted to do afterwards.

I was at an all-girls Grammar school in Kent. The conversation was simply which University did I want to go to. No-one mentioned apprenticeships or any of the other options available and even engineering as a subject choice didn’t really feature.

Thankfully one teacher had been contacted about an event being run by Brunel University to try to encourage girls/young women into engineering. He came and found me and talked me into going along. I had a wonderful week sampling all sorts of things from wind-tunnel testing to electronics to product design and came away fully committed to pursuing engineering at University, but I really really didn’t want to build bridges for a living. What’s better than bridges? Aeroplanes!

I did Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough University which lends itself more to the design side of engineering, then joined the graduate programme with Airbus. This gave me a chance to explore various options, but the bit I really enjoyed was Airworthiness and Certification, particularly conducting the in-service occurrence investigations. With this in mind I started a Masters in Science (MSc) in Human Factors alongside my day job, but I wanted to move to something closer to the aircraft we were working on. I completed my MSc while moving roles to AirTanker Technical Services (initially as an Airbus internal move, and then as an AirTanker employee). I was also working toward my professional accreditation as a Chartered Engineer (CEng), but I struggled to see how my early careers experiences were helping me achieve that (in hindsight, they were!) so that fell by the way-side for a while.

Eight years as a systems engineer opened so many opportunities to get involved in all sorts of projects. It’s such a wide-ranging remit in that department, it’s fast paced and there’s a lot to do, but really rewarding work and gave me so many experiences. When I revisited gaining Chartership during maternity leave, it was a much easier task to fill in the paperwork and I finally achieved CEng last year.

What do you love about your role?

The diversity of the subjects we deal with, the process of finding out what happened and identifying how to mitigate. Most importantly, I love working in the knowledge that we’re directly contributing to making the system safer for everyone.

What would you say to young women who are thinking about pursuing a career in engineering?

Go for it! The term Engineering can be anything you want it to be. There will be something for you.

If I had my time again I would have looked at the apprenticeship options available but I have no regrets about the route I took. I think the fact that engineering roles cover such a wide range of experiences and subjects is  a wonderful thing that means you will always have options.

If you try something and it’s not for you, there will be something else, and if you’ve got good basic engineering principles to work from, you can do anything!