In October, we’re welcoming ‘Birthday Girl’ – the new Boeing 787-9 aircraft that will lead our 16-strong Dreamliner fleet – which might just go down in history as the planes that revolutionised our business. And while we’re bursting with excitement about it, we’ve been working up to this moment for several years. Someone who has been helping keep the project running smoothly from the very beginning is Hayley Burton, a Programme Planner and self-confessed airline geek.
Hayley wasn’t always an airline geek though. In fact, she started as a Business/Data Analyst and joined Virgin Atlantic three and a half years ago, supporting projects in Engineering. “I’ve always been interested in many different things. Following my school education, I started my work life as a legal secretary and ended up forging a career within Information Management & Technology for the NHS. I then completed a HND in Computing & Software Development as formal qualification of my skills and knowledge within this area.”
Although Hayley didn’t forecast a career in aviation, when she saw the role within Virgin Atlantic, she couldn’t resist applying. "I saw the ad and my best friend, who works at Virgin Atlantic, said I’d really fit in here – so that was it really!” And even though she wasn’t a specialist or industry expert, her transferable skills and drive to tackle big challenges head-on, meant she saw the potential for her skills to contribute to our business, but also the chance to learn something new too.
The 787 programme
“Moving onto the 787 programme was a real opportunity for me to understand the other elements of the business and where and how they all worked together. When I was working in Engineering, that was the only area I learned about. Now, I’m fortunate enough to be able to look at lots of elements with multiple areas – from Flight Operations to Cabin Crew and Service Delivery. It’s really enabled me to see the airline as a whole.”
It’s true. As Programme Planner, Hayley really does have a finger in almost every pie. “I oversee the entire project planning within the programme. I create a very high-level plan and track all of our business areas within it. So it’s really about understanding what people have to deliver and when, their required outcomes, identifying any potential risks and how they’re managed – including financials. I’m also part of the 787 comms team, so I’m regularly in touch with internal and external stakeholders, and I’m also a bit of a right-hand-man for my Programme Manager. I liaise with my Boeing counter-part who I collaborate with on a regular basis in order to review the plans and share information on our progress.”
Hayley says the moment Boeing toured the UK with the 787 and she got to see it upfront, was when she realised what a great project this was. “This fleet is so important to our business; it’s a real game-changer. Not only will the fuel efficiency save us money, but the aircraft are e-enabled, meaning they use state-of-the-art technology.”
“From a technology perspective we’ve installed and built a new IT infrastructure in order to process the waves of data that we’re going to receive from the aircraft and that’s really exciting. It’ll be used to work out how we fly, what routes we take, how we maintain the aircraft and how we can improve all those things”.
It’s been a challenging project but one that she says has been exciting and well-executed. “We’ve definitely rolled our sleeves up and thrown ourselves at this. Boeing has told us that we out-weigh other operators in being prepared for this aircraft. And as the arrival of the first aircraft draws ever closer, we’ve set up a countdown clock – you can feel the excitement. We have a fantastic programme team and everyone has really pulled together.”
While she’s impressed with the team and how our areas work together, she’s says the highlight so far has been her visit to Boeing’s Everett hangar in Seattle – the world’s largest building by volume.
“We travelled around the hangar in golf carts and there were people just everywhere constructing these four airplanes on the 787 production line – they were literally being built before my eyes. It was just amazing. I really got to see something that people – even in the industry – don’t usually get to see.”
So apart from once-in-a-lifetime experiences, what’s the best part of working on this project? “Everything surprises me about this job. I’ve learned so much through my work on this programme, it’s unbelievable. My knowledge about how the airline industry works is immense and I’m still trying to cram it into my brain!”
“My goal is to manage a major programme like this in the future; the skills and experiences I’ve built upon by working at Virgin Atlantic makes me feel optimistic about my future career.”
Visit our careers website to read more about life at Virgin Atlantic.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.