I LOVE road trips. The delirium of drinking too much coffee at the wrong end of the day is one of the perks. I know I’m not alone either in my appreciation for sunsets at the end of a long Westerly road. Reaching out to tradeswomen around the country has brought some excellent results. Connecting with Kate Meleady, the avionic engineer is an adventure to be shared. Upon meeting Kate, it’s impossible to miss that zesty ‘let’s-make- it-happen!’ streak. No doubt her positive mindset was crucial when she encountered the naysaying resistance of her school guidance counsellor. Kate understood her passions from an early age and was developing a solid sense of the direction her working life should take. Fortunately, she put her head down and didn’t let the non-believers steer her away from fixing enormous metal birds!

Women in Trades Network Ireland got on board this week with Beta Bajgart.  She is the creator of soon to be published book, ‘A Woman’s Work’. We drove to meet Kate and find out about her life in Airplane mode.

In true fashion, the weather changed dramatically as we hit the Limerick border. But honestly, this just added to the excitement of our night out at Shannon Airport hangar.

I feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory! – This is something I’ve said more than once in my life; usually when I find myself in this style of a situation; in a magical environment that’s a hive of activity. It’s a kind of regression to the 5-year-old of my past that’s just caught sight of the playground. It’s a bit exciting entering the aircraft hangar, I can’t lie.

Kate greeted us outside and led us onto the work floor for the grand tour. She showed us the declad inside of a plane. We were told how the perfect balance of air pressure is maintained between cabin, walls, and the outside.  She led us through a maze of wiring and mechanics in the cockpit and underbelly of the plane that completely blew our minds.

I’m glad Kate’s on the ball. I have no idea where she stores all that information or multi tasks at the rate she does. Basically, I guess that’s why she was in charge of overseeing the maintenance of not 1 but 3 aircraft that day.

We watched like delighted kids as planes were moved in and out of the hangar, and positioned like enormous rolling jigsaw pieces for the benefit of their maintenance teams.

There weren’t any other women on site but Kate told us that there is another woman that works on the floor, also a Kate. In good news,  the site manager has also voiced enthusiasm for seeing more female apprentices amongst the crew.

Although Kate says there’s still room for the industry wage to improve, this work has afforded her a rich and colourful life of working all over the world and on very interesting jobs- including the maintenance and upgrade of a president’s aircraft in Africa.

She says that the guys are a solid bunch that she works with and that together they create a warm and supportive environment for each other.

Aircraft engineers perform a combination of tasks; repairing, maintaining as well as upgrading aircraft parts. They also work on hydraulic systems, pneumatic systems, electrical systems etc to perform functional checks on aircraft systems.
There are specialists in different areas. For example, structural mechanics work on the frame of the aircraft, and avionic techs work on the electrical systems and components. Kate mainly works in avionics – electrical, instrument, radio, radar, and auto-flight. She supervises all task specific procedures that are carried out each day.

It seems like the job of an aircraft mechanic has adapted to modern day systems and there is less of the greasy in ‘grease monkey’ life, and more complex electrical aspects involved.

Kate estimates that there are 4 female aircraft mechanics currently working as in Ireland.   Maybe 50 women across all of Europe – while there are about 20,000 men in the job. She suspects that this will change, as attitudes and perspectives shift about what women are capable of.

In Canada only 2.8% of the AME licence holders are women. In the U.S. it is slightly more; between 4 and 10%. On the upside, apprenticeship training over this side of the pond, here in Ireland, rates well. Kate declares that it’s openly regarded as being ‘up there with the best’. Her current employers, Atlantic Aviation Group, have produced several gold medals in recent years at the World Skills Championships.

One reason that women don’t enter this sphere of work, is because they’re simply unaware of opportunities within the aviation fields.  Especially so in mechanics and electronics. Interestingly, statistics from a recent report carried out at Leeds University has shown that women perform exceptionally well in these roles and Kate Meleady is living proof.


Discover other women who work in trades on the WITNI website: witni.ie/career-stories/

Read about women in fascinating careers throughout Ireland. Find out about the upcoming launch of  ‘A Woman’s Work’ book: awomansworkbook.com

Stay up to date with news & apprenticeship openings at Atlantic Aviation in Shannon: atlanticaviation.ie/careers/

Say hello & tell us your story: hello@witni.ie