Andrej is our Chief AME and oversees all maintenance activities for our team. Beyond scheduled maintenance, he has led some of our most major projects like rebuilding the MiG’s braking system and the panel replacement currently underway on the Vampire. Andrej sat down with us to give us a glimpse into the role of Chief AME, share some of his most memorable aviation experiences, and offer advice for aspiring aviation maintenance technicians.
What is your role with the team?
I’m the Chief Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) for the team. I’m responsible for the maintenance and airworthiness of the aircraft, and I ensure that the maintenance and modifications we carry out are in accordance with Transport Canada regulations. I also oversee some of the training for the volunteers when they’re servicing the aircraft.
Each aircraft has an approved maintenance schedule that tracks component life and inspections coming due, so my responsibilities include maintaining that schedule, making sure everything is up to date, and that all maintenance items get carried out at the required times. That includes scheduling maintenance as well as making sure unscheduled maintenance activities, like small snags or breakdowns, get carried out as soon as possible.
Are there any challenges associated with overseeing maintenance in a group where some of the labour comes from volunteers?
One of the main challenges of working with a volunteer group is incorporating volunteers into maintenance activities. Our core team of volunteers all have their own schedules and they’re not here 9-5, so incorporating those schedules into the maintenance schedule can be a challenge.
What role does maintenance play in delivering flight experiences in planes like ours?
Especially with vintage, high performance aircraft, there is a lot of effort behind the scenes that goes into keeping the aircraft serviceable. A good way to look at it is for every hour spent flying, there are about 10 hours of maintenance with a mechanic fixing something or checking over the aircraft, and volunteer time cleaning and maintaining the aircraft as well. The flying is the most visible part of what we do, but there’s a lot that goes on in the background to help us deliver the flight experiences we do.
What first got you interested in aviation?
I wanted to be a fighter pilot, but back at the start of my career, I couldn’t join the Air Force because I needed glasses. If I couldn’t be a fighter pilot, I didn’t want to do anything else in the pilot career path, so I decided to join the Army while deciding what to do for a career. After serving overseas as a Peacekeeper in Croatia, I decided it was time to continue pursuing my true interest in aviation. I chose the aircraft maintenance world and haven’t looked back. I did also eventually become a private pilot, so now I get to engage in my passion for aviation both in the air and on the ground.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in aviation maintenance?
The number one thing I’d say is to get a variety of experience. When you go into the field to get your basic experience, find an employer who will give you a variety of training. I’ve been lucky to have worked for companies that exposed me to a large spectrum of aircraft maintenance activities, from aircraft structures to avionics to everything in between. That gave me the expertise to move my way up to Chief AME because of my knowledge and experience in all areas of aircraft maintenance.
In terms of entering the field, there are a couple ways of getting into it. Some people go through the military, which Transport Canada takes into account as their basic training. Some people go through a two-year college program to get into it, and some people get a job in the industry as an apprentice or unlicensed technician, and then have the opportunity to do an online course and get their license from there. The route you take depends on what feels best to you.
Do you have any advice for people who don’t know if maintenance is for them but are interested in learning more?
If you’re still in high school, trying to get a co-op placement is a great way to see what an AME’s life is about. If you’re older and don’t have that opportunity, volunteer at an organization or museum that maintains aircraft, or arrange to talk to someone who works in that career field to get an idea of what their day to day is like.
What is your most memorable experience with the team?
One really special experience was getting to do the initial test flight in the T-33 with Turbo Tarling when it came into civilian use after its military service. It was a systems check flight, so we made sure everything was functioning correctly in flight, that the airplane was flying as it should, and that the aerobatic characteristics were as expected. That flight showed me the value of the experience someone can get being focused on one kind of airplane. Turbo knew everything about the airplane – more than I’ll ever know – from being around it and flying it for years. That really put into perspective what it means to be the highest time T-33 pilot!
What is your most memorable aviation experience?
My most memorable experience is not just one experience, it’s the people I’ve gotten to meet throughout my career. I’ve met guys like Chris Hadfield, and then people only a small group of pilots would know, like Turbo Tarling or Fern Villeneuve, who just passed away this winter. Aviation is such a close-knit community that you get to meet people from every occupation in every corner of Canada, and they’re all just brought together by their love of aviation, even if they have nothing else in common.
As someone with such a long history in the aviation industry, what have your experiences been with the aviation community?
I find aviation is a big part of being Canadian. Especially in more remote communities, a lot of day to day activities revolve around aviation. If you want to see the full spectrum of what Canada has to offer in any aspect, from geography to demographics to different social groups, then aviation has the opportunity to show that to you. I know people from the east coast to the west coast and everything in between in Canada – people from all backgrounds and all lifestyles – and they’re all somehow involved in aviation. To me, that’s the one of the biggest and most unique benefits that aviation has to offer.
I think there are a lot of benefits to more Canadians knowing more about Canadian aviation. It’s something that has a big part in our history as a country, both the history of Canadians building planes and the history of how aviation has connected the country. It’s something I’d like to see grow more across Canada to help continue developing our aviation industry and to help people who haven’t had exposure to aviation start to build that connection, particularly in urban centres where aviation may not have the same amount of day to day prominence as in smaller communities. Airshows are great for that, or events like Aviation Fun Day [at the Region of Waterloo International Airport]. Even fly-in breakfasts and other events at a local airstrip are great introductions because you can talk to anyone in the spectrum of aviation and really get the feel for it. Everyone I’ve met in aviation has the same passion for it, so they want to share it and are very welcoming to others to help bring that passion into their lives.