Graphic: RFDS apprentice Ashley Lewthwaite
After working part-time at a local café during school, 19-year-old Ashley’s ‘daily grind’ now looks a lot different.
Ashley Lewthwaite has recently exchanged espresso machines for aircraft engines, kickstarting his journey to becoming a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer with the RFDS in Darwin.
Ashley is the inaugural participant of the RFDS’s apprentice engineer program in the NT – an initiative aimed at futureproofing the Flying Doctor’s aircraft maintenance arm and encouraging more young people to pursue careers in aviation.
RFDS Darwin Senior Base Engineer Andrew Luck said it was a crucial time, not only for the RFDS but for the broader aviation industry, to invest in future generations.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, aviation ground to a halt, which has caused a shortage of engineers across the industry as a whole,” Andrew said.
“As part of our social licence, I believe we have a responsibility to contribute to the industry and get some apprentices through.
“I started my journey in aviation as a 16-year-old – there’s a lot to learn and it’s easiest to learn while you’re young.”
Just weeks into his apprenticeship, Ashley is already on the tools learning all things aviation and avionics from the RFDS’s senior engineers.
From day one, he said he was blown away by the complexities and intricacies behind maintaining the RFDS fleet of Pilatus PC-12 and PC-24 aircraft.
“I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of pursuing a mechanical trade. But as soon as I came to the RFDS Base and stood next to one of the aircraft with its engine on show and heard the senior engineers talking about such complicated stuff – it was captivating and I just wanted to do it myself,” he said.
“The best part is getting hands on and picking up new terminology. There’s a lot of jargon and engineering language, but to be able to start understanding it all makes me feel proud. It’s very rewarding.
“At the end of the day, I get to be next to planes and work on their guts and learn how to fix and maintain them. It’s almost too good to be true to be at the Royal Flying Doctor Service.”
Ashley officially started his studies in February 2023 and will continue over the next five years under the supervision of the RFDS before eventually operating as a licensed engineer.
“The NT Government has actually set up a school for apprentices at Darwin Airport, where Ash will be attending, which is recognition of the fact that General Aviation is an essential part of our life in the NT. Aviation helps deliver healthcare services, justice services, food and supplies to people,” Luck said.
“The beauty of the RFDS is we don’t just do engineering – we’ve also got pilots and medical staff, so it’s a really interesting environment for a young person to learn.
“We hope to onboard more budding engineers in the future, through both apprenticeships and work experience.”
While still just learning the ropes, Ashley already knows what it means to don the RFDS uniform and contribute towards delivering the finest care to the furthest corner.
“I want to be able to stand in five years next to Andrew and the team as a fully certified engineer,” he said.
“I think the RFDS is a bit more than medical help – it’s about connecting with communities, especially in the more rural areas.
“One of my friends told me about how he received help from the RFDS – it made me feel happy having a job like this that makes a difference.”
What is the difference between aviation and avionics?
Aviation is the science of making and flying aircraft, while avionics is the science and technology of the development and use of electrical and electronic devices in aviation.