Mechanic’s skyward shift to aircraft engineer

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AME scholarship recipient Josh Kilgour with CASA CEO and Director of Aviation Safety Pip Spence at the RAAA Convention at the Gold Coast. Image: RAAA.

Scholarship recipient Josh Kilgour reflects on his AME achievements

Embarking on a new career journey is a leap of faith that many are familiar with. For Josh Kilgour, a former car mechanic hailing from Lennox Head, NSW, the decision to switch gears in his professional life was sparked by a chance encounter and a passion that had been simmering quietly within him for years.

Josh’s transition from fixing cars to becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) was not a typical one. It all began with a simple conversation at Ballina Airport, where Josh was taking a break from cars and working as ground crew. Little did he know, this conversation would spark a newfound career path, culminating in being one of our successful AME scholarship recipients.

Reflecting on his early days, Josh fondly recalls his childhood spent with his father, who often took him to the airport to watch planes take flight. Despite his love for aviation, the idea of pursuing a career in engineering had never crossed his mind — until fate intervened.

‘I had a love for aviation, but I never really thought about engineering or even had an idea of how to get into it,’ he explains.

‘My wife Cody was working as ground crew as well and told me to have a chat to one of the engineers she knew. And from there I started doing work experience and just knew straight away that this was the job for me.’

Apprenticeship process

After starting his apprenticeship at Jetstar during the COVID-19 pandemic, Josh faced unexpected challenges, including relocating to Melbourne due to the permanent closure of the hangar.

Despite the initial hurdles, Josh remained committed to his studies, diligently working toward his diploma while adjusting to life in a new city – during a lockdown.

‘I’d never been to Melbourne before and had no extended family down there, which was tough,’ he says.

‘It was a huge sacrifice, my wife was heavily pregnant at the time, and financially it has also been very difficult, living on one apprentice wage. Some weeks I don’t know how we did it, but we did.

‘We were also living quite close to Aviation Australia, where I was already completing my apprenticeship, so I started doing my diploma.

‘In my second year, I started ticking off all my exams, and then we moved back up north. I took a break for a few months because it was just a bit chaotic as we have young kids.

‘I never really did that well in school but once I put my back into something, I try and put in 100%. I just want to be the best that I can, so I put in a lot of effort to make sure that I sat the exams only once and aimed for a mark in the 90s, which I achieved.

‘The feeling of passing the exams, the reward of it all, and now I’ve also just completed my diploma, so it’s all been worth it.’

Josh recalls one of his proudest on the job moments has been rectifying a defect on an A320 that had sat on the ground for 8 weeks.

‘The airline was planning on sending someone out from Airbus to correct the defect and another apprentice and I – we were in our third year at the time – kind of ran with the task and asked if we could, “have a crack”.

‘The [defect] was in a terrible spot, and I don’t think this issue had ever been rectified in Jetstar in Australia before. And we got it done. So that was pretty big, and it felt good and really rewarding.’

So rewarding in fact, that the airline awarded him runner-up in the apprentice of the year for 2023.

AME qualities

In reflecting on the qualities essential for success as an AME, Josh emphasises the importance of being adaptable and collaborative while highlighting the dynamic nature of the industry.

‘You definitely need to be a hands-on person, more of a “go getter” rather than standing on the sidelines,’ he says.

‘Be open-minded and a team player. The industry is forever changing and forever growing. It always throws different curve balls at you and keeps you on your toes.

‘I’d also probably say try and get an apprenticeship with one of the big airlines if you can. From my experience, I get to work on multiple different aircraft of larger commercial size with a lot of different maintenance aspects.’

AME scholarship

Josh admits he was both shocked and emotional when he got the call that he was one of CASA’s AME scholarship recipients.

‘It’s an insane feeling to get noticed or recognised,’ he says. ‘I’ve put in a lot of hard work and for it to pay off in the way that it has I am just completely grateful to CASA. I’ve used the money to pay for my last 4 exams, and then my final RPL [recognition of prior learning] for my diploma licensing.’

Currently, Josh – who now takes his own two-year-old to watch the planes, just like his own dad did – is in the process of completing an A320 type course. This course marks a crucial step toward achieving his next goal of becoming an A category line maintenance certifying engineer. Following this achievement, he intends to transition into a full-time role as a B1.1 aircraft engineer.

‘Then whatever else the career wants to throw at me, I’ll take it on, you know – arms wide and just go for it,’ he laughs. ‘I absolutely love the industry and I’m excited for where it takes me in the future.’

 

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