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Behind the scenes: a check with Isabelle Bitterli

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As Airbus A330 HB-JHH taxies in to Stand Echo 23 at Zurich Airport just before 7 a.m., some 30 minutes behind schedule, there’s a healthy tension on the face of Isabelle Bitterli of SWISS Hangar Maintenance. “I know Juliet Hotel Hotel has just come from Delhi,” she explains. “And I know all about her – from her previous technical history, and from the input that the crew have already given us. But even with all that, I can never be sure exactly what I’ll come across in the course of my turnaround check. And it’s this unpredictability – along with the great responsibility – that I really love about my work.”

For Isabelle, who is 21 and grew up in Basel, there were two jobs she was really interested in once her school years were over: pilot or fashion designer. But then, at a local careers fair, it was an apprenticeship as an aircraft mechanic that caught her attention. “I’ve always been interested in technology,” she explains, “and I’d say I’m pretty good with my hands, too. So the Lufthansa Technik stand was as far as I got; and I ended up signing on for a four-year polymechanic’s apprenticeship specialising in aircraft maintenance.” After finishing her basic training, Isabelle was hired by SWISS Technical Services; and she’s been working for The Airline of Switzerland ever since she completed her full apprenticeship last July. “It’s a shift work job,” she says. “Some earlies, some lates. Most of the time I’m in the hangars; but I do like to get out on the apron, too, and feel the weather as well!”

Even while the passengers are still deplaning from HB-JHH, Isabelle begins her extensive external check of the aircraft. While one of her colleagues looks over the engines and the landing gear, she walks around the Airbus with a keen eye for any damage that might have been caused in the course of the inbound flight. “I’m co-responsible – as part of a team – for clearing the aircraft to perform its next flight,” she explains. “It’s a responsibility that I’m very aware of; and that’s why I try to do all my work as properly and professionally as I can.” And then she’s off again: testing a single screw in the fuselage, trading a few words with the Commander and then heading for the cabin to replace a faulty light.

“What I like most about my work are the variety, the teamwork and being so close every day to the wide world of travel,” Isabelle concludes. “I also find the mix of manual work on the aircraft and office tasks very appealing. And then we’ll soon have two new aircraft types in our fleet: the Bombardier CSeries and the Boeing 777-300ER!” Any downsides? She laughs. “Well, we did have to remove a waste tank the other day in temperatures of 25 degrees. Not exactly nice work, but an unforgettable experience!”

At 12.55, HB-JHH takes off for Chicago: on schedule, and thoroughly checked through.

Text: Tamás Kiss Photos: Thomas Kern


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