In Profile: Jessica Westthorp
From carrying out vital airfield inspections, to managing capital projects, the life of an airport civil engineer is a busy one. We spoke to Adelaide Airport Civil Engineer Jessica Westthorp about her love of infrastructure and her future ambitions.
Can you explain your career journey so far?
I’ve always had an interest in maths and science and my love of infrastructure led me to study Civil Engineering at the University of Adelaide from 2009–2012. Following university, I became a site engineer working with a SA Civil Contractor. I had the opportunity to work on many different projects in the Adelaide metropolitan area and regional SA. Some of the projects included; reservoirs, wetlands, train stations and roads. In 2015 I applied for a job at Adelaide Airport. It seemed like an exciting and rare opportunity and my background in road construction appeared relevant to the position. To my surprise I was successful, and I accepted the role to commence with Adelaide Airport Limited in March 2015.
What does an average day look like for you?
It is not uncommon for me to get an early (around 7am) phone call relating to one of my projects, this could be a question about design, unknown underground services such as gas or power services that have been uncovered, or a request for me to inspect the site. Following any early call-outs, I normally spend the morning responding to emails – most of which relate to current or upcoming projects I am working on.
Mid-morning is the best time to get out and inspect the runways, taxiways and aprons as there are less aircraft movements between morning peak and the lunchtime turnarounds. I undertake inspections of these assets on an as-required basis but as a minimum I have scheduled monthly inspections. During these inspections I walk the pavements with assistance from the Facilities Maintenance team and we mark out and record any pavement defects which need maintenance treatment or further investigation. The findings from these inspections are collated and issued monthly to internal stakeholders and we try to plan maintenance work or other actions to occur in the following weeks/months.
During the afternoon I often find myself attending or running various meetings, which may include anything from risk assessments and design workshops to site meetings.
How do you stay up to date with the latest industry developments?
I currently take part in the AAA Pavements Working Group and have just joined the committee for the AAA Young Professionals which was announced in 2018. I regularly attend conferences and events, particularly pavement related events, and I find these very beneficial to the work I do.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that it is varied – there is never a shortage of work and I get the opportunity to get out of the office on a regular basis.
I often manage capital projects all the way from the concept through to the end of defects liability period, which can be challenging but rewarding.
What is challenging about your job?
Every project I work on is different and you can never plan for everything. This can be difficult because I must be reactive and deal with issues as they arise in a timely and efficient manner. This application also applies to the pavement assets I manage – it can be very hard to predict the unknown. Timing is imperative in an airfield setting to ensure we can maintain aircraft operations.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be a civil engineer at an airport?
Becoming an engineer can take hard work, so be prepared to work hard throughout university and into your working life. My advice to anyone who wants to work in an airport would be to watch the industry closely, become familiar with an airport you would like to work at, do your research and to talk to someone who works there if possible. Airport Engineering is quite unique and in places like Adelaide, the opportunity may not come up very frequently so you will need to be ready for any opportunities that may arise.
What are your long-term career plans?
I am currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Pavement Technology, with an aim to have this completed by mid-2020. This will help me step into an airport engineering role, with a more specific focus on pavement design and management. Long term, I would love the opportunity to manage a team of engineers, continuing to work in the aviation industry.
Do you have any particular memorable moments in your career?
We had a pavement issue with one of our main taxiways last year over the Christmas break and needed some asphalt for overnight repairs. Unfortunately, all asphalt plants in Adelaide had already shut down and were undergoing routine maintenance. We managed to get an asphalt plant fired up in Port Lincoln and a driver willing to travel the 14-hour round trip for less than one tonne of asphalt!
This article was written for the Australian Airport Association’s Women in Airports Network – an online community to support the advancement of women across all aspects of airport operations.