High-flyer pursued runway dream

Published: 24 Mar 2016

WW Simone Drakes - 20160315

Inspired by visits to an air traffic control tower when younger, Simone Drakes has since developed her career in aviation, eventually rising to the position of vice-president of engineering for Florida data specialist Avionica.

WW Simone Drakes - 20160315 (Image)What got you started?

As the first child and daughter of an air traffic controller in Barbados, I grew up with a passion for aviation. Watching airplanes land from the edge of the runway and from the wraparound desk in the ATC tower, I dreamed of the day it would be me in the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

After leaving Barbados at age 14 in pursuit of my dream, I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. There I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in avionics engineering technology (AET), and was awarded most outstanding AET graduating senior.

It looks like Florida has formed the backdrop to your career.

I started out as a technical coordinator for Emteq Engineering in Miami and was promoted to junior avionics project engineer. For four years, under the mentorship of three brilliant FAA- (Federal Aviation Administration) designated engineering representative (DER) senior engineers, I gained knowledge and experience with aircraft avionics installation design and FAA certification, specialising in design for large transport category aircraft.

I joined Avionica in Miami as an avionics project engineer, because I saw it as a company with great potential. I was promoted to aircraft engineering manager, then director and most recently, vicepresident of engineering.

What are your duties?

I maintain leadership over three groups: research and development; aircraft installation and global civil aviation certification; and technical publications. I oversee a group of 25 engineers – mostly in electrical – who design the products and the installation and certification of those products for implementation on large transport category aircraft.

Drakes’ role sees her manage a team of 25 electrical engineers

Avionica specialises in data capture, recording and communication to and from aircraft via Satcom, wi-fi and cellular connectivity. I am also an FAA DER, delegated to review and approve engineering information relating to electrical equipment and systems by making findings of compliance to federal regulations on behalf of the FAA.

What recent projects have you worked on?

My team of engineers just recently completed the FAA-approved deployment of Avionica’s 4G cellular module. Another recent adventure was when I travelled to Hong Kong to complete FAA wi-fi flight testing on the Boeing 777 for United Airlines.

It may seem odd to travel to a country so far away for US regulatory and certification testing, but that was the only place United could allocate an aircraft for the test. We were successful, and I am proud of my team of engineers that represented Avionica that week.

What sets Avionica apart?

Avionica has built the smallest, lightest value-oriented avionics for 23 years, while demonstrating its products flying on more than 8,000 commercial aircraft. The company’s future holds many new and continuously innovative avionics to deliver and change the way aircraft are tracked and communicate.

Which aircraft do you work with?

Avionica and the aircraft engineering team have achieved 18 FAA supplemental type certificates (STC) for mostly Boeing aircraft, such as the 747, 777, 767, 757, and the 737. Three of the STCs cover the installation of Avionica products on over 250 Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer airliners.

What’s been challenging?

There are three areas that I find especially challenging: compliance with regulations, personalities and time. Aviation is heavily regulated to uphold high standards that ensure the safety of the flying public. It demands a significant amount of design development, analysis and test before products are granted approval for use.

Second, it can be challenging as a manager juggling responsibilities with a multitude of personalities. I find solace in being surrounded by top-notch individuals who strive for excellence in everything they do. Third, time is always of the essence: too much to do, so little time. The only way I “overcome” these challenges is to plan accordingly: break each difficulty down to the most basic elements and solve each one, one step at a time.

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