Ingars Vaivods reveals what it takes to become an aviation technician and how his team takes care of airBaltic’s aircraft.

How did you get involved in aviation, and what brought you to airBaltic?

I was in my last year at the Riga Aviation University, studying for my bachelor’s degree, when two of my fellow students, who were already working for airBaltic, suggested I apply for a job vacancy for ramp coordinator. I decided that such a job would be a great way to get into aviation and also a step closer to becoming a technician, which I was then studying to become. I ended up getting the job and began working while finishing up my studies. I got an engineering degree in aviation transport, and later, a master’s degree as well. I’ve been with airBaltic for 15 years now, and I’ve moved up, step by step, from ramp coordinator to technician and now, two years ago, to vice president of production.

Did you not want to become a pilot?

The thought of becoming a pilot did come up, but I considered all the pros and cons and decided to continue the path I was already on, that is, becoming an aviation technician. I’ve flown in small and large aircraft, and the view you have up there is fascinating, and the sun’s always shining.

But was a career in aviation always your dream?

Actually, no. When I graduated from high school, I found out that the Riga Aviation University was offering a combined programme at both the Defence Academy and the Aviation University. Since most kids have no idea what they want to do when they graduate from high school, I figured this would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone and get two forms of higher education in four years. When we graduated, we had earned both the rank of lieutenant from the Defence Academy and a bachelor’s degree from the Aviation University, so we had a number of options ahead of us.

What are your responsibilities in your job?

I’ve got a lot of responsibilities, and a variety of them, but the main one is timely and high quality technical maintenance of our aircraft. That includes all of the technical aspects and the preparation, planning, training and procedures involved with them as well as providing appropriate operating conditions. Our main priority is passenger safety. Airplanes are built to fly and deliver passengers to their destinations, so the time we spend on maintenance needs to be used effectively. We need to ensure that as soon as an airplane lands, we efficiently use the time we have to service it. When planning new flight schedules, we always plan time for technical maintenance, which is adjusted according to the number of hours or days or cycles the plane has flown. Airplane manufacturers determine the list of procedures that need to be performed on a plane before it can be safely allowed to fly again.

We’ve also got our own internal workshops where we perform maintenance on various components. For example, we test the inflatable life vests to see whether they’re still in good condition. We also test the escape slides and do maintenance on batteries and so on. We’ve also got a special Ground Support Group that makes sure the planes are clean and treated with de-icing fluids in the winter.

What do you like best about your job?

Of course, the airplanes.... It’s very satisfying to see our planes take off in the air instead of idly sitting on the ground. I know that most of the technicians have put their hearts and souls into their work, and many of them have devoted their lives to aviation alone. In my job, each day is different and has different challenges. The company’s development plans let us confront a variety of new projects, and that makes it necessary to prepare one’s self for something new. This past summer was interesting in that we opened up a lot of new destinations, so I had to ensure technical maintenance at the new destinations, and I travelled a lot to meet with the local maintenance organisations.

Of course, the people at work play a big role, too. It’s nice to come to work when you know that your team is professional and responsive – people who’ll always be ready to help one another.

I presume that, in order to become an aircraft technician, you need more than just a diploma in your pocket. How much practical, on-the-job experience does one need to work independently in this job?

You need to invest quite a bit in yourself to become an aircraft technician, both in terms of money and time. An experienced technician is someone who’s invested at least seven years in his career and who has general experience in aviation as well as experience with a specific type of airplane. You need at least two years of experience after graduating from aviation school to become an entry-level technician who’s allowed to do smaller procedures on his own and certify them. To become a technician who can replace various components and divert defects, you need at least three years of experience with a specific type of airplane. For the first two years, technicians work only under the supervision of other certified technicians and are not allowed to do aircraft maintenance without the supervisors’ presence or approval. It takes at least six months for a technician to requalify for working on another type of aircraft. We even joke that it takes longer to learn to be an aircraft technician than it does to become a doctor! Our technical staff is always upgrading its skills. The technicians need to take obligatory courses in order to maintain their certification.

But you really are doctors of sorts – airplane doctors!

(Laughs.) Yes, exactly! We inspect airplane engines with borescopes! We look for where it hurts and cure illnesses.

Do you ever have any qualms about getting on an airplane, and how do you rate the safety of airBaltic’s planes?

I regard airBaltic’s technical safety to be at a very high level. When I go somewhere on vacation, the safety of my family is the most important thing, so we usually choose to fly with airBaltic. I have absolutely no doubts about the safety of airBaltic’s planes, because I know that maintenance and component replacement is always done in a timely manner and according to the manufacturers’ and operators’ instructions. If we compare aircraft maintenance procedures with those of automobiles, then, for example, you might check the pressure in your car’s tires only three times a year. But for airplanes, we do it every day. We do certain maintenance procedures every day, others every three days, and every seven days we do a full maintenance check on each plane in order to ensure a safe and sound structure. Manufacturers are always sending us new improvements for planes currently in operation, in order to increase safety and prolong their operation. And after a certain number of hours in the air, each plane undergoes a full technical maintenance procedure, during which the whole plane is practically all taken apart and each detail is tested.

Next year airBaltic will add Bombardier C Series airplanes to its fleet. They just got a good rating at their presentation in Paris. What do you think of these airplanes?

They really have good ratings, in terms of economics, sound and speed. And they require less time for maintenance, which means that they’re made of even better and sturdier materials and are introducing an updated diagnostics system. According to the technical data, they really do look quite excellent. All that remains now is for the planes to prove themselves! We’re anxiously awaiting their arrival.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I like to stay active. I’ve been playing hockey for several years now. That’s a team sport with lots of speed, agility and, of course, excitement. In the summers I play football and water ski. I also run and bicycle, and I love just taking a walk in the forest. I’ve taken part in a 60K endurance race along the coast. We began at 11 p.m. and finished the race about 15 hours later. We participated as a team, and all of us crossed the finish line. Physical tiredness feels satisfying to me, especially if I can go in the sauna afterwards. Staying active isn’t just good for your health; it also keeps your body and your mind in good condition. I also attend cultural events, but I’d like to find more time to do that.

Do you like to travel, and which destination has left the biggest impression on you?

I love to travel! My family and I try to get away at least once a year, either to some warm climate farther away, or somewhere nearby. And I travel quite a bit for work, too. Iceland is a very impressive place. It’s so different, with volcanoes, beautiful waterfalls, geysers, volcanic ash, black sand and the blue lagoon where you can soak in the warm water under the open sky. Of course, Iceland doesn’t have a very warm climate. The airport there even has a sign that says something to the effect of “the weather isn’t very good here, but we’ve got great landscapes”. For our last trip, we flew with airBaltic on the direct flight to the island of Rhodes. And our next favourite places are probably still ahead of us!