• By The Straits Times
  • Posted 2 years ago
  • Reading Time : a few minutes

Mr Justin Chiam’s work in SIA Engineering Company is all about the proper maintenance of aircraft to ensure complete safety in civil aviation. 

By Narendra Aggarwal

It is easy to see why Mr Justin Chiam thinks his job with SIA Engineering Company as an assistant manager in airworthiness management is a “dream job”.

“I love my job being in the hangar with a plan and being with people who work behind the scenes to make air travel a pleasure and safe for all of us,” he explains.

“Since young, I have loved being near planes and flying in them whenever I had the chance to do so, and this love affair continues unabated.”

He managed to convince SIA Engineering to hire him even before he graduated from his mechanical engineering course at the National University of Singapore in 2004. SIA Engineering, a leading aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul company, had advertised for experienced engineers to apply for the post.

“I was able to convince the interviewer that I deserved a chance even though I had no real life working experience,” says Mr Chiam, who graduated with honours.

“Having got the job, I gave 120 percent to it as I was very keen to learn and start applying the knowledge acquired in my engineering studies at the university to the job at hand,” he says.

“For the first three years, I worked almost every weekend, learning a lot on the job in the process. I enjoy my work and never take my eyes off my goal, no matter what difficulties that may come along the way.”

Mr Chiam started his career as a quality engineer to support the sales and lease of aircraft. In this role, he handled redeliveries of 25 aircraft within three years of being on the job. This saw him posted to Jakarta, Mumbai, New York and Toulouse in France to receive the aircraft.

“My next stint as staff assistant to the chief executive officer allowed me to gain exposure to management issues, strategic business planning and business development initiatives and this deepened my knowledge and interest in aviation even further,” he says.

Next, he was posted to operations and spearheaded a project to implement bar coding of consumables. This initiative streamlined materials procurement for aircraft maintenance checks and yielded a 20 percent reduction in material costs.

“Following that, as part of job rotation, I was assigned to the regulatory affairs section to oversee the integrated quality programme and manage the company’s human factors programme.”

Mr Chiam currently manages two teams at the company’s Continuing Airworthiness Management (CAM) technical records and aircraft maintenance schedule sections. The former upkeeps maintenance documentation while the latter tailors the maintenance schedule for airlines.

Maintaining proper paperwork on each aircraft is essential because it is a highly valuable asset and air safety is a critical factor. The records on the airworthiness of each plane need to be maintained carefully as they form an integral part of the asset for its owner for operations, lease or sale.

“Having studied engineering, one is trained to think logically and plan carefully ahead, which helps me a lot in my job as each aircraft is a fine piece of engineering work. Detailed records are kept for each plane and for regular maintenance to ensure its airworthiness,” says Mr Chiam.

“For instance, an important piece of equipment on an aircraft like the landing gear has thousands of parts, and to change a single part will cost a lot of money. Sometimes, equipment gets switched around aircraft for repair and maintenance. So detailed records are very important.”

Mr Chiam says his training as an engineer and the experience gained in his job has helped him to draw up aircraft maintenance schedules. “We tailor-make the maintenance schedule for each aircraft and plan ahead in great detail.”

His engineering education has conditioned him to think in this way and it works well for him at work and at home, he says.

“Studying engineering had conditioned me to be logical, how to think, and to think with numbers. I like to do things with flowcharts so that everything goes smoothly and one gets the results that one wants.”

Success has a lot to do with passion, he says. After seven years on the job with SIA Engineering Company, Mr Chiam says he is still as passionate about his work today as he was when he joined the company.

“When I do anything at work, I like to think as if my family will be travelling on that aircraft. I give the same kind of perfection and passion to each aircraft as if I could be on that plane. I want to ensure safety and seamless travel for all passengers to their destinations.”

Many possibilities for engineers

As a school boy, Mr Justin Chiam was fascinated with technology as he often wondered how things around him worked.

He became absorbed in the aviation world because he felt “the technological romance associated with flying”, he says.

That was why he studied mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore.

There is engineering all around us and engineers have a great future ahead of them, he says.

Take the Formula 1 race in Singapore, for instance. “F1 is all about engineering, it just depends on how you want or choose to see it,” he says.

The latest Ferrari, Bentley, or any sports car for that matter, are fine pieces of engineering. Similarly, the interior of the A380 aircraft is a marvel of engineering, says Mr Chiam.

“Engineering can be applied to all walks of life from F1 to growing mushrooms, even to doing social work for old folks or improving irrigation so that there is enough water to grow food for everyone in the world,” he adds.

“There are tremendous opportunities for anyone taking up engineering studies. It all depends on what you want to do in life as an engineer. But you will have to put in the hard work before you get that pot of gold.”


(This article was originally published in The Straits Times)