Design and certification in the aviation industry

6 mins
May 17, 2022
Sonya White, Principal Design and Certification Specialist at the Civil Aviation Authority provides some amazing insight into the importance of design and certification work at the CAA, and shares some personal experiences as to how she got into the career!


The aviation and aerospace industry is one of the most exciting career areas within the UK, with plenty of different roles to choose from. Springpod and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the regulator for the industry in the UK, have collaborated to provide an unprecedented virtual work experience and live week. Thousands of young people will have access to leading industry experts, interactive content, and invaluable information to find out more about careers in the industry. 

Ahead of the virtual work experience and live week, Springpod spent some time with people from different areas of the CAA, to bring you closer than ever to the dedication and innovation within aviation and aerospace. In the second instalment of our blog series, you’ll hear from Sonya White, Principal Design and Certification Specialist (CAA). Sonya provides some amazing insight into the importance of design and certification work at the CAA, and shares some personal experiences as to how she got into the career! Let’s get ready for take-off! 

Why did you join the CAA?

I’ve always had an interest in aviation. When I was at school, I joined the Air Cadets, and during this, my passion grew. I did a degree in Physics, and one of the things that was highly recommended was undertaking a year in industry. With it being Physics, working in lab environments or typical spaces like this was really common, but I really wanted to get out in a company and gain some experience. I was lucky to see an available position with NATS, which is one of the UK’s providers of air traffic control services. I did my placement year there, and discovered how much I enjoyed working in aviation, and it made me realise what I wanted for my future. 

After completing my degree, I looked at available opportunities in aviation, and the CAA was my destination!

What would a typical day look like in your position or department at the CAA?

My current role is Principal Design and Certification Specialist, which sits within the Airworthiness Division. So, if an organisation designs a new aircraft, engine, or even part, they’d apply to the CAA for approval. We would look at the designs, and review them for safety concerns and compliance with airworthiness standards before granting an approval. We also regulate these design organisations - we make sure they’ve got the right processes and people in place to continue their design work. This can involve going out and conducting audits to make sure that everything within the organisation is working as it should. We also provide support and advice to other departments within CAA who might need our input - this could be to do with space, remote piloted aircraft, or further innovation. It sounds cliche but no two days are the same. 

What benefits do a background in STEM have?

Aside from the obvious - you could do a STEM subject and end up in an industry directly related to that subject, such as aerospace engineering - a passion for STEM can give you a particular attitude and way of thinking, which is fantastic for things such as problem-solving. STEM often involves quite a logical approach to things, so even if you haven’t studied a subject that lends itself exactly to the career you end up in, you’ve got the transferable tools to be able to approach things and do something new. Within aviation, and particularly in design and certification, we’re often given new challengers or even things we haven’t seen before. Having that kind of adaptability embedded in your mindset can really help you every day.  

If you could give advice to anyone keen to pursue a career in aviation and aerospace, or within the CAA, what would it be?

I think it’s important to be open-minded and find a route that works best for you. Some people might go to university, whereas others might do apprenticeships, alternative qualifications or internships, and it’s important to consider what suits you, and what’s out there. A lot of big companies in aviation will have opportunities, so it’s worth doing a little research and having an idea of what skills and qualifications you might need, and how you can take the steps to get there.

What do you believe is the biggest misconception that people may have about the CAA?

My main misconception was that to work for a regulator such as the CAA, you had to have decades' worth of experience within the industry. I came in straight out of university, so it shows that you can join the CAA at any part of your career within this industry. There’s lots of roles, and certainly, while there are some roles where more experience is required, there are equally a lot of other routes to approach through various teams. 

The pandemic has had an effect on the whole world - what has it been like working in the aviation and aerospace industry?

The main ways it’s affected us has been how we perform oversight - typically, we’d go and visit organisations, so we’ve had to adapt that as COVID-19 guidelines have changed. 

The industry has obviously been affected by the pandemic, but from a design perspective, we’ve still seen a lot of certification applications coming in, which suggests that a lot of these organisations have been adapting as much as possible to work in the situation.

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