Tell us a bit about your role at Virgin Atlantic…
I have the wonderful role of Head of Cargo Operations, which means I have responsibility for our global cargo ops teams and all of our 3rd party handling contracts. My primary focus is ensuring safety security and compliance and driving excellent operational performance whilst trying our best to deliver on our amazing Virgin customer service every day.
I joined Virgin 20 years ago (in April!), having previously worked for Airbus and started this incredible journey as a design Engineer, looking after landing gear, wheels, and brakes. I moved into Engineering safety after a few years and then became Deputy Quality Manager in the now called Quality Assurance team. In 2013 I became Head of Safety, a huge role that gave me a fantastic view of the business from both an operational safety and a Health & Safety perspective. I moved into Cargo in January 2018 and I’m not entirely sure where those three years have gone (well the last 12 months…maybe!).
What were your ambitions growing up, and did you see any barriers to getting where you wanted to be?
When I was very small, I wanted to fly. Two of my uncles were pilots and I was obsessed with aircraft from then. I grew up in Bahrain and had a great friend who was going to be the pilot and I would be cabin crew. However, as I got older, my love for all things mechanical grew and on leaving school, I chose to go to university to do a mechanical engineering degree because, being obsessed with cars, I wanted a career in Formula 1.
During my placement year at university, I was offered a year with Airbus in Toulouse. It sounded like a great opportunity and who wouldn’t want to work in the South of France! I spent a year working in their Design Engineer team and absolutely fell in love with the world of aviation. They offered me a job in their Bristol office and so I joined the moment I had completed my degree and the rest is a wonderful career working with aircraft. I don’t regret the change in direction at all, aviation is very fast-moving, every day is different, and you can never plan your weeks or even your days. The opportunities for progression are great, and all the roles are unique – and that was before Covid-19!
What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Without a doubt, working with our people. I genuinely feel so lucky to be part of this team and the way everyone pulls together is amazing. It feels like every day, someone comes up with a new idea, or we break another record, or we solve that problem that we thought was going to stop us in our tracks. Being part of that is what makes me get up every day and try my best.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
With the reduction in passenger flying, it has been vital to our business to switch on extra cargo flying and we’ve had to be innovative in how we seek new business. In 2020, we worked with our amazing operations teams across the airline and with the authorities to be able to carry cargo in the cabin on our passenger seats, therefore increasing the amount we could carry on each flight.
Our first flights were to China and due to entry restrictions for our crew, we also had to gain approval to fly there and back with the seven flight crew staying on board and switching ‘teams’ for the return journey. An incredibly complex process and we only had a few weeks to do it in. I will never forget being on the arrival stand at Heathrow as the very first aircraft taxied in from Shanghai to a guard of honour from our ground handlers, full of emergency medical supplies. It was an emotional experience and on going up to the flight deck, I was expecting to be met by some very tired pilots who probably didn’t want to speak to me but they were buzzing and so proud of what they had just done. A very humbling experience to be part of.