Alexander Moerchel graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with both a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2004 and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2006. Next, he went to England to complete additional policy-related coursework. While still in the UK, he joined Rolls-Royce and worked his way through their graduate trainee programme, and he was hired full-time as an engineer, contributing to the development of the engine powering the Airbus A380. He also spent time on the aircraft performance team while at Rolls-Royce. Last year, Alex returned to his native Germany to work for Lufthansa Technik where he now puts both his technical and business knowledge to work as a sales engineer.
You have had a wonderfully diverse educational and professional career so far, and your successes have taken you to many international locations. Please tell us what you have accomplished since your time at Embry-Riddle.
After graduating from ERAU with the MSc in Aerospace Engineering, I enrolled in a Master course on Technology Policy taught at the Judge Business School of the University of Cambridge. The motivation to do this stemmed from the idea of diversifying my thorough engineering background from ERAU with topics focused on the social impact of technology while not losing the technical connection.
After completing the programme, I joined the graduate trainee programme at Rolls-Royce plc in the UK. This programme gave me the opportunity to do several rotations in the company’s civil aerospace division. I was able to gather deep insight into the various stages of the engine life cycle, ranging from turbine design to aftermarket support. Among other things, this gave me the great opportunity to spend three months at the Rolls-Royce field support office in Hong Kong.
Once I completed the graduate trainee programme, I joined the development department for civil large aero engines. There, I became the focal point for the Trent 900 fan module, which is the engine powering the Airbus A380. In this role, I was especially able to develop a good understanding of how components are used by the engine and how they react to the various running conditions.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to join the aircraft performance team at Rolls-Royce. This allowed me to further diversify my technical experience by working on aircraft-engine system integration issues and conducting take-off performance calculations in support of sales campaigns.
During the middle of last year, I decided to move back to Germany. I left Rolls-Royce plc and joined Lufthansa Technik (LHT) in Hamburg for my current role as a sales engineer for aircraft component services. The main challenges for me in this new role are the increased focus on the economics behind commercial aviation, managing customer relations, and the cultural differences between working in Germany and the UK. To sum it up, it’s quite a different world at LHT, but it is exciting and keeps me on the steep bid of the learning curve.
What three traits or skills have made you the most successful in your career?
Knowing another language to a level that allowed me to use it both in a professional and social setting: the professional bit may be obvious, but from my experience, it’s the social part that makes the difference. Unfortunately, I found that this is also harder to learn due to all the idiomatic expressions that you find in every language. The best way to learn is to get out and interact with the native speakers.
Geographical mobility/flexibility: the meaning behind this is two-fold for me. It is good to be mobile and flexible when it comes to moving somewhere for a new job. It is, however, even better to be unbiased about the destination. For example, before I joined Rolls-Royce in Derby, I was a bit skeptical about moving to the English Midlands. What I didn’t know was that Derby is adjacent to the Peak District, which offers great opportunities for outdoor activities coupled with many traditional pubs.
The eagerness to continue diversifying my professional experiences: customer requirements on large engineering systems such as commercial aircraft become more and more challenging. Simultaneously, facing climate change and other socioeconomic issues, government regulations continue to become stricter. I believe that it is important for engineers in the future to be able to appreciate complexity and interrelations among sub-systems to be successful. The best way to ensure this is to collect a sensible set of different experiences.
What is the biggest highlight of your career so far?
One highlight that I spontaneously remembered when reading the question was standing in the inlet of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine mounted in one of the company’s test stands in Derby, UK. We were conducting inspections of the fan blades and tip clearances in-between two engine test runs, which meant that the engine was mounted about 20 feet up in the air.
When reading the question again, however, I have to say that as an aviation enthusiast it is always a highlight for me to go to one of the big hangars on the Lufthansa base and see a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A340 parked side-by-side. It reminds me of why I do what I do in my day-to-day job, which is something that can sometimes be forgotten, when things become a bit more stressful.
What helpful tips do you have for international students seeking opportunities abroad?
It is important to be flexible and open-minded. It makes life a lot easier when going to a foreign country for a new job. I also find it very beneficial to start out your professional career with a graduate trainee programme as opposed to joining as a direct entry. These programmes typically allow you to move around within the company, thus enabling you to understand the organisation as a whole. In addition, and maybe more importantly, you will start with a group of people of similar age, which allows you to quickly build a sizable network, which is very important in the long run.
In terms of citizenship and work permits, I think particularly engineering graduates shouldn’t face too many issues in Europe as long as the company of interest is not fully focused on defence and government projects. Many of the large European aerospace companies realise the shortage of young talent and are stepping up their recruitment efforts. Besides, many of these big players, including Rolls-Royce and LHT, have operations and customers all around the world, so there is a vested interest in diversifying the workforce. The best piece of advice here is to do some research into what projects and/or customers the company of interest has acquired recently and to correlate your own background and skills to that. Good sources of information are the company websites and industry specific periodicals.