I took the chance to sit with the MAF Engineers over lunch. Most of the men present at the lunch table were already well-seasoned skilled engineers. Each had previously prepared for years, by doing aircraft maintenance training and completing between 20-40 exams to become fully qualified. Although all of them have skills to use a spanner, wrench and riveting tool, their passion goes beyond the scope of fixing an aircraft and making sure it is ready to be released for service. They have made sacrifices to be with MAF because they truly believe in the vision of the organisation and they want to be part of God’s work among the Aboriginal people.
My first conversation was with Jonny Garwood, a recent edition to the MAF Arnhem Land team. Jonny is an aircraft apprentice and was quick to mention that the job requires a lot of reading and studying. As for Jonny, he finds satisfaction in troubleshooting faults and enjoys the opportunity to be part of a team. However the job has its challenges and one is the need to clean up horrid smells from the aircraft such as the results of motion sickness.
Hangar foreman Rob Hovenden who was listening in on our conversation, was quick to agree that it’s a very humbling experience to be cleaning dirty aircraft. However the sheer satisfaction of finding a defect before it causes problems brings a sense of great worth to his role. For him, being part of MAF is a package deal: One gets to fix aircraft, work with a great bunch of people, and serve God and the people through the ministry of MAF. Chief Pilot in Training Lisa Curran added to this that: “What you engineers do makes us pilots safe.”
Within time most of the engineers had returned to the hangar floor and I was left with Storeman Rod Neil. Although not an engineer, Rod is part of the Engineering team and works very closely alongside the engineers. Rod commented, “They don’t take shortcuts, they do their job very professionally and I would feel very comfortable travelling in any aircraft that is maintained by MAF Arnhem Land Engineers”. Rod also mentioned that the engineers will turn their hand to almost anything, whether it be cleaning, fixing vehicles, painting MAF houses, going on homeland outreach trips, or spending time with the local people. His humorous side came through in the conversation when he said that engineers stink like grease and oil and that smell never leaves them, yet they are hard workers and they have a great sense of humour.
The engineering team ensures that the plane has been through its vigorous checks and that any required repairs have been carried out, thus making it safe to fly. The team has to follow a complex set of procedures to keep up with aircraft standards. With the amount of planes that are managed by the engineering team this is not an easy process. Aircraft checks have to be planned weeks in advance in order to work in with the engineering staff availability, and to also provide buffer time for unexpected maintenance issues.
I found the Engineers on the humid and hot hangar floor. David Horton had just finished cleaning up an interesting smell* that was permeating from the storage pod. All the team were involved in doing a ‘check 3’ on MTR, a GA8 Airvan. This is a complex 2-3 day check that involves removing panels, screws, and filters etc to make sure the aircraft is safe and fit for service.
I asked David Lamboa, an engineer from PNG, on what is challenging about being an engineer. David said dealing with the civil aviation rules and keeping up with the constant changes in operational procedures surrounding the aviation industry brings it challenges. Also when time is tight, planes are needed to be flying and faults are taking a long time to fix, it can be very challenging. That challenge can often come in the shape of a call at the end of the week for a plane that needs attention and is stuck out at one of the communities. This means getting together a tool bag and finding a plane and pilot that can take an available engineer to the stranded plane, hoping that the fault can be fixed with ease and not require a night out in the bush or a second return trip with extra parts and tools.
“Without their hard work the planes wouldn’t fly, people and cargo wouldn’t be moved and the Gospel wouldn’t be spread so widely.”
John Hermanus said it is the constant pressure that makes one tired but in the end we are not working for nothing; we are doing this for God. It is important to check and re-check to make sure that things are done right. Sometimes you feel that something is not right and so you check again. Our source of strength comes from God and each day it means praying and asking God for wisdom to make the right decisions and to fix the aircraft properly.
Moving into the hangar offices one will see the Chief Engineer and Hangar foreman at their desks, filling out countless amounts of paperwork, planning maintenance schedules and so on.
Together they make a team and together they see the MAF Arnhem Land aircraft fit for flight. Their roles are vital; their place in MAF makes the whole big picture vision come together.