Why the Heathrow machine works

Published: 30 May 2017

Living near the London hub, it was a natural move for James Brazier to join up as an apprentice as a 16-year-old. He now heads the maintenance team that keeps baggage screening working smoothly.

What sparked your interest in aviation?

Plane spotting with my parents. I was in awe of how aircraft could reach such incredible heights and curious about each flight’s beginning and end. Many of my friends worked at London Heathrow airport due to our close proximity, so I naturally developed an interest in the workings of the hub.

Tell us about your career to date

I joined Heathrow’s apprenticeship programme when I was 16 – giving me my first glimpse behind the scenes at the UK’s busiest airport. Over the course of four years I was given a taste of various disciplines of engineering and learnt through both classroom and on-site real world experience. After becoming a qualified technician at 20 years of age I was offered a managerial role in water facilities, looking after the complete end-to-end water process from drainage to advanced water treatment. In 2013, I began a new role in the hold baggage screening (HBS) unit, operating X-ray technology and robotics to process thousands of bags each day. I was promoted to duty engineer after one year, and department manager two year later. I found myself leading a team of six technicians and travelling the world to attend training, all of which was provided by Heathrow. Today, I manage a team of 30.

What have been the highlights?

Some of the best highlights over the past 10 years include the opportunity to travel across Europe and to the USA as part of my training. The camaraderie that developed during the apprenticeship, the training provided abroad, the recognition for improvements and the constant support from managers to develop myself academically have all had a positive effect on my commitment to Heathrow.

What does your current role entail?

As HBS maintenance manager I’m at the forefront of passenger safety and airport efficiency, ensuring passengers are given the best airport service in the world. Thousands of bags are processed through our X-ray machines each day, allowing airlines to provide a reliable experience to every passenger. When something goes wrong in baggage, that’s when my team is really put through its paces. We have three miles of underground tunnels transporting bags on electric cars which requires many hands on deck. I currently lead a team of four duty engineers and three system specialists, whilst also managing a wider support team. We’re constantly exploring new technologies including 3D prototype tools to make improvements on our machines that keep the airport moving. There certainly isn’t ever a dull day at Heathrow.

What are the challenges?

One of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of my role is to ensure the business is up to date on changes in operations, vital to the smooth flow of passengers and aircraft using the airport. Essentially, passengers are really counting on my team to make sure their bags get to their destinations, so we are constantly working to avoid disruptions at all costs. Additionally, providing advice and support in critical times in which contingencies sites become live is also particularly exciting!

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in engineering?

Go for it! There are many apprenticeship schemes out there, but you must do your research. The Heathrow apprenticeship has given me a great head-start and has opened many doors. It hasn’t been without hard work though – do your homework. There is no greater reward than reading and learning every manual and taking in all aspects of engineering when it comes to fault finding and looking for improvements.

What is your next move?

The great thing about Heathrow is that there are so many opportunities. The airport is like a small city, with over 76,000 people coming to work to support our passengers every day – there is always an exciting new possibility around the corner

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