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Working lives

YOUR CAREER: John Cairns, 42, is associate director of aviation with TPS Consult.

Route to the job

I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 1980 with a degree in civil engineering, having specialised in asphalt pavement engineering.

After that I joined BAA as a graduate engineer and worked on numerous airport design and construction projects in the UK and overseas, including major runway resurfacing projects at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Barbados and St Lucia. I became chartered in 1986.

I left BAA in 1995 to join the airport authority in Hong Kong, where I worked on the project design management team for the Phase I Airside Works Package at Chek Lap Kok airport.

In 1997 I joined Airplan, an Australian aviation consultancy in Sydney, where I worked as principal engineer on a number of projects at Sydney Airport in preparation for the Olympic Games.

I then joined Halcrow Air Transport in London, in 1999, and was involved in a number of airport projects and bids in the Caribbean, Middle East, Vanuatu, Greece, Hong Kong and the UK.

I was approached by TPS Consult in September 2000, and asked to head the civils aviation team based in Croydon. My main brief is to extend the scope of the team's work both in the UK and overseas, and to provide specialist technical support to our current framework agreements with BAA and Defence Estates Term Commissions.


TPS Consult is a medium sized consultancy with an excellent track record and experience in aviation projects particularly renowned in the field of airfield pavement design.

I expected to work closely with the aviation sector director to develop the professional and technical skills - and reputation - of the TPS aviation team. My remit was to seek higher margin work in areas such as the provision of airfield advisory services, airport planning, due diligence etc to airport owners, developers and operators, and contractors in the UK and overseas.

The reality

TPS Consult has lived up to my expectations in terms of its specialist capability, approach and commitment to growth in the aviation business. Like many of our UK competitors though, we are finding it difficult to recruit engineers and planners in the 25 to 30 year age group.

This year has been very active so far in terms of marketing, business development, bidding and project delivery. I have been involved in civil and military airport bids and projects in the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America, Malaysia and the UK.

As for the future, I would love to work overseas with TPS Consult on a big airport project - preferably somewhere hot.


Whatever you do, give it your best, make good friends and contacts along the way, enjoy the culture of each country and take opportunities as they arise.

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