Take a look inside MAF’s Mareeba hangar
Story: Sean Atkins
MAF is known for its work in the air, but some of the most important tasks are done on the ground by our talented team of engineers.
Thanks to the generosity of MAF supporters, a new $4 million hangar complex was built at Mareeba Airport in Queensland and it provides a state-of-the-art home for engineering staff to carry out maintenance and bigger projects.
The top-class facility, which opened in 2022, actually consists of two hangars with one of the buildings operating mostly as a paint shop. Each hangar has solar panels on the roof to supply clean renewable energy, equivalent to five or six domestic installations.
It provides a base for working on planes used by the Mareeba-based Flight Training Centre as well as supporting MAF programmes in Arnhem Land and Timor Leste.
Head of maintenance David Walmsley, a local Mareeba boy, is proud of what the project means for MAF’s work.
“People’s first impressions would be that this is a fantastic place to work,” he said.
“Mareeba is good, the climate is nice, it is a great lifestyle choice to come here.
“The biggest difference is that this place is purpose-built, it’s had a lot of thought put into it. The old place didn’t quite fit what we needed. The old paint shop was too small, which meant we needed to disassemble a plane just to get it in. Now we can paint a plane as a whole, which is a lot more efficient.”
Recently acquired aircraft VH-MFD was the first to be paint stripped in Mareeba’s new paint shop. The shiny Cessna 208 was then being worked on by engineers getting it ready to be sent out to the Arnhem Land programme.
In a competitive aviation environment, MAF faces stiff competition to attract the best engineering talent. Although there are better financial rewards in the industry, qualified engineers can be drawn to MAF when they embrace the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of the world’s most remote and disadvantaged communities.
Although working deep inside a plane at a hangar in Mareeba can feel a long way from the mission field, David said there are ways to stay connected to the impact of MAF’s programmes.
“I think that’s quite attractive for the staff here – it keeps you engaged with the organisation to be going away and solving problems,” he said.
“A lot of us do quite a bit of travelling, but this is a nice place to come back to.”
For engineers like Glenn Cousley, the Mareeba building is an attractive place to work.
“It’s a nice new hangar, I’ve worked in some cramped places but this is swish and spacious,” he said.
“It’s very nice working here – I enjoy the big projects, the bespoke stuff.”
Jason Job, a former pilot and programme director, made the switch to engineering and he enjoys learning a new set of skills as a second-year AME.
“I worked a year there at the old hangar and a year here, and this is miles better – the hangar itself and all the equipment,” he said.
“It’s just really enjoyable and the view is sensational.”
In the neat design of the hangar, the stores sit to one side in a specially-designed section which provides easy access for engineers.
Stores manager Michael Penn said the old stores in the previously-leased hangar buildings had grown over time.
“This is shinier and better laid out, the old facility was cobbled together over many years of making do,” he said.
“We run an open stores so engineers can take what they need and log it out on the computer. If they need to request something, I can put it out for quotes and pricing.”
Although the pilot training is at the other end of the Mareeba runway, near where the previous hangar used to be, flight training centre head of delivery Rene Don said it was fantastic to have such a facility supporting their work.
The planes used by flight training students are maintained by the talented team in the hangar, and trainee pilots do get to check out the engineering side.
“I think it helps a lot because with the flight training and with the engineering that we have a lot of activity – we have planes coming in for maintenance, pilots coming in for training, so for students wanting to join MAF it’s really good exposure,” he said.
For anyone planning to visit beautiful Far North Queensland, there is an opportunity to arrange your own viewing of the hangar. Tours generally take place every Tuesday morning with experienced engineer Kevin Kraak, but it’s essential to book ahead.
Mareeba hangar facts
Overall project cost – approximately $4million
Green energy – Each hangar has 40 kWh o panels on its roof with a 30kWh inverter. This is the equivalent of 5 or 6 typical domestic installations. In a typical week in Mareeba each roof generates about 1.4-1.5MWh of electricity. In cash terms the paint shop’s electricity usage is almost cost neutral and the engineering hangar realises a saving of 30-50%
Hangar doors – the structure and mechanism of the main hangar doors were donated to MAF by High Power Doors in America (hpdoors.com), the doors were specifically requested by the engineers and generously donated to the project with a value of approximately US$80k.
Site – It was decided to raise the level of the hangars above that of the road to prevent flooding during the wet season. The earth works were scheduled to be completed by the end of February 2021, but with prolonged wet spells in the famously sunny Mareeba, the work was completed in April 2021 with the first slab laid a month later.
Hangar tours – Normally every Tuesday from 8am-10am but bookings are essential at [email protected]