Mitchell Blei as Design and Certification Specialist at UK CAA


In 2019, Mitchell graduated at the track Honours Aviation Engineering . Mitchell works as Design and Certification Specialist at United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority. He will tell us something about his experiences after graduation and his outlook on the future.

The complexity, the diversity, as well as being able to be at the forefront of regulatory change. Every project is conducted with different specialists depending on authorised panel areas which makes teamwork dynamic and interesting.

Mitchell Blei - Graduated in 2019 at Honours Aviation Engineering

When did you graduate and which track did you graduate in/did you do?

Whilst studying for the Aviation Studies course, I opted for the Engineering specialisation from the second year onwards. Minor programme was the International Air Law Diploma programme at International Air Transport Association and my internship was at Fokker Services B.V., a Part 21J Design Organisation, as a research and development intern. My fourth-year specialisation was in Honours Aviation Engineering and I conducted my thesis at the Dutch Electric Aviation Centre (DEAC) in Teuge regarding legal frameworks for experimental aircraft.

If this isn’t your first job since graduation: what were your other jobs and at which companies?

I officially moved to the UK in October 2019 which was just a couple of months after graduation. I applied for various jobs in the aviation industry, but quickly found that not having lived long enough in the UK was a significant blocker to get the appropriate security clearance.
Fortunately, I worked part-time as a HGV Class 1 ADR (i.e., Dangerous Goods lorry) driver at Nagel Transport BV during my time at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) which allowed me to apply for a position as a lorry driver in the UK to ensure financial stability in a foreign country. After all, there is always a job in transport!
Meanwhile, I continued applying for jobs within the aviation industry. I ended up taking on a position as a HGV Class 1 ADR driver with a British recruitment agency in October 2019 and eventually got a permanent contract with Allen Logistics NI Ltd which are based in Lutterworth. I transported dangerous goods class 1-9 throughout the UK. I fully expected to be a lorry driver for only a couple of months as I simultaneously applied for jobs in the aviation industry, but COVID-19 suddenly struck. It inevitably delayed my professional career in aviation as, besides rejections, I also received withdrawn offers due to the volatility of COVID-19.
However, I was able to help throughout COVID-19 by transporting personal protection equipment, hospital equipment, and raw materials to make anti-bacterial products to companies, hospitals, and manufacturers. This meant I had the fortune to be able to continue working, be out on the road, and enjoy a significant portion of the UK as I was seen as a key worker during COVID-19 (and therefore not forced to stay at home). Not exactly what I had foreseen myself doing in the interim, but a great experience, nonetheless.
In June 2021, I got hired as a Regulatory Compliance Analyst by Intrepid Minds for Project Mosquito that was being run in cooperation with the British Royal Air Force, Northrup Grumman, and Spirit AeroSystems. I was responsible for the airworthiness of the avionics, including soft- and hardware, in accordance with military airworthiness regulatory articles for a Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) demonstrator and worked alongside the Lead Engineer and the Systems Engineer within Intrepid Minds. I also supported and eventually took ownership of requirements management, safety management, and business development activities.
Once Project Mosquito was completed, most of the airworthiness-related activities decreased which caused me to divert my attention to other areas of the business. However, I wanted to pursue a career in airworthiness as my goal is to be a T-shaped engineer/specialist in the domain of military and civilian (experimental) RPAS airworthiness. Hence, I looked elsewhere.
I came across a job advert on the UK CAA’s website for RPAS Technical Surveyors within their RPAS Sector Team. I applied and got invited for a general interview by HR and my, at the time, provisional manager. This also included a competency/technical assessment by one of the UK CAA’s Technical Inspectors. A few days after the interview, I received a formal job offer which I accepted.
I started work as an RPAS Technical Surveyor in February 2023, but was quickly promoted to Acting RPAS Technical Inspector in October 2023. I would typically review Specific category applications and authorise certain RPAS operations as well as conduct oversight activities. At the same time, I was also an RPAS Subject Matter Expert (SME) for novel, innovative projects such as Temporary Reserved Areas as well as the sole Executor of RPAS Mandatory Occurrence Reports (MORs) where I would conduct safety investigations and perform root cause analyses on reported failures of RPAS.

How did you end up in your current job?

I always knew that I wanted to work in airworthiness which meant that I would typically want to deal with equipment/products at the Certified level. The RPAS Sector Team works solely within the Specific category, hence, I was always looking for the next opportunity to move up to the Certified level. My personal development within the UK CAA revolved around getting to that level of competency whilst working in the Specific category.
Eventually, several positions for Design and Certification Specialist became available late 2023. I subsequently applied and received a formal job offer not too long after. I formally started as a D&C Specialist in February 2024.

What are your daily operations?

I am currently working on becoming authorised according to the relevant certification panels. I primarily focus on activities as a Project Certification Manager (Panel 0) and a Technical Specialist in Electrical Systems (Panel 5), Avionics (Panel 6), Powerplant Installation and Fuel Systems (Panel 7), Software and Airborne Electronic Hardware Design Assurance (Panel 10), and Propulsion (Panel 19). As such, I will either manage or assist in various certification/validation projects ranging from airworthiness of type design, equipment authorisation (UKTSOA), flight conditions approval, type validation, and Design/Production Organisation approvals and oversight. At the moment, this is for both habited and uninhabited (or crewed and uncrewed) aircraft. However, the expectation is that the airworthiness of uninhabited aircraft will be a primary focus in the near future.
When acting as a PCM, I am responsible for the administration, general communications, management of Technical Specialists, and managing the project lifecycle. Whereas, when I am acting as a Technical Specialist, the responsibilities range from reviewing documentation specific to applications as part of determining whether compliance has been demonstrated to liaising back any findings and/or questions to the corresponding PCM for that particular project.
I also recently became a member of ICAO’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Panel (RPASP) and EUROCAE’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Working Group (WG-105) so I will be getting more involved with those and actively participate in the development of standards.
Lastly, I am also involved in the UK CAA’s STEM programme which is a great continuation of work as a student mentor and my involvement during the ‘Student in de Klas’ programme at AUAS.

What do you like most at your job?

The complexity, the diversity, as well as being able to be at the forefront of regulatory change. Every project is conducted with different specialists depending on authorised panel areas which makes teamwork dynamic and interesting. The UK CAA also has a considerable workforce and my colleagues have a significant amount of experience and knowledge in a wide range of areas. I can always reach out to any of them to be enlightened on a matter that I could be unfamiliar with. Considering the novelty of RPAS certification, it is very exciting to be working for the regulator at this point in time.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

would still be in the D&C team within the UK CAA, but will be duly authorised in all of my respective panel areas. I will manage/own most RPAS-related certification tasks and be working towards becoming a Principal D&C Specialist. As mentioned before, I see myself in the future as the Certified RPAS specialist.
Working for the regulator is great as the breadth of responsibilities and opportunities is vast and diverse. The wealth of backgrounds and experience/knowledge that is present at the UK CAA allows for new insights to be discovered every single day. Hence, I do not see myself stopping learning any time soon either, regardless whether that is a short course or a full programme.
Similarly, I will have completed the MSc programme in Military Aerospace and Airworthiness at Cranfield University and have decided whether I want to pursue either the roadmap to be able to attend the Advanced LLM programme International Air and Space Law at Leiden University or a PhD relating to RPAS certification and technical standards.

What did you like most in your education that helps you out nowadays in your work?

The foundation in both operations, engineering, and air law helped immensely as well as being able to develop a keen sense of time management. I can support in a number of areas at work and it was the fact that ensuring that I developed into a T-shaped engineer got me to where I am today. It also allows me to think of new concepts and methodologies quite creatively (e.g., utilising operation concepts in an engineering environment and vice versa or combining concepts).
It also helped greatly that the minor programme, the internship, and the thesis all had synergy regarding airworthiness which set a great foundation that I am still reaping the benefits of.

Are you still connected to the Aviation Academy?

Yes, but more in the background. I follow AUAS on social media and through the Alumnus Network. Though, I have set up communications to increase my involvement possibly in the near future.

Have you been a member of the SVAAA?

No, although Floris Valk tried to convince me a number of times when he played a crucial role within the SVAAA (friendly peer nudge!).