Friday, January 09, 2015

'Old school' attitude and technical expertise wins accolades for Perth-based aviation mechanic

Bill East next to an engine in a hangar at Jandakot.

In one of the aviation hangars surrounding Perth's Jandakot airport, William East is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave the aircraft maintenance business where he quietly toils away.

The 72-year-old, who spent much of his working life in Texas, has now been recognised for his technical expertise and consistently high safety standards with a prestigious US aviation award.

His colleagues at West Star Aviation have presented him with the US Federal Aviation Administration's Charles Taylor master mechanic's award, named after the man who built the engine for the Wright brothers' first aircraft.

The award is presented to US citizens who have worked at least 50 years as a certified aviation mechanic, and Mr East was nominated by his former workmates in Texas.

Mr East said planes had become much more sophisticated over the years but his job was essentially the same.

"We're still doing the same thing, changing cylinders, as we did on radial engines," he said.

"I think we're all as safety-minded as we ever were."

However, the recent spate of airplane crashes, including the disappearance of MH370, the shooting down of MH17 and the crash of an AirAsia passenger jet, has him worried.

"As a mechanic it bothers you not to know what's gone wrong," he said.

"I don't think the industry's changed and people are still as enthusiastic and safety-minded as they've always been.

"But when something goes down and there's no explanation to it, it just bothers you as an aircraft mechanic."

'First to put his hand up'

Mr East started his career in 1962 when he joined the US air force, two years after migrating from northern England.

"I was one of the lucky ones. My whole shop went to Vietnam and I went to Alaska," he said.

But the cold weather was not to be underestimated.

"If you dropped a wrench, you picked it up with a pair of gloves," he said.

"You didn't just go down and pick it up because it was so cold in winter time. The coldest I saw it was 54 (degrees) below."

He left the air force in 1970 and moved into general civilian aviation in Texas. He came to Australia in 2007 and married his second wife.

West Star Aviation owner David Ellis said Mr East was a great hand.

"He's the first one here and the last to leave," he said.

"It must just be old school, if you need anything, he's always the first to put his hand up."

Mr East said he wanted to keep working "until I lose interest in planes".

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