Breaking Barriers, Creating Innovation and Chasing Passion!: The Story of Noorfariza Zulkifli

Family Ties, Humble Beginnings

It takes a strong woman to break into the aviation industry, traditionally a male-dominated field. Doubly more so, for those looking to carve out their path in the Engineering division of the airline, like the resilient Noorfariza Zulkifli. A Senior Technical Services Engineer with Malaysia Airlines, her journey to where she is today begins where it does for so many of us in the industry.

“I remember when I used to travel with my family on holidays. More so than getting to our destination I was fixated at the clouds I could see out the window, equal parts inquisitive and amazed as I marvelled at the metal tube floating through the air. I knew I wanted to do engineering because I’ve always loved figuring out how things work,” she says, recalling memories of trips from her childhood. Noorfariza’s parents both worked at the then Malaysian Airline System (MAS) and were a source of inspiration for her passion in aviation.

“My whole family was always into aviation, and the conversations at the dinner table always started with stories about MAS. My father was a Flight Operations Engineer with the airline and was my role model for the career I aspired to have,” she added.  After finishing her SPM examination, Noorfariza was offered a scholarship to further her education at the prestigious Imperial College of London. 4 years later and with a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in tow, Noorfariza joined Malaysia Airlines’ Engineering division.

Finding Her Voice

Joining the airline as a Technical Services Engineer, Noorfariza’s day-to-day responsibilities are never dull and always keep her on her feet. Providing engineering support in matters related to MAB’s fleet, her role requires her to be creative, quick on her feet and resilient. Responsible for handling the aircraft cabin interiors, she is responsible for almost everything inside your aircraft from a technical perspective, from minor details like aircraft decals such as the signages in the aircraft cabin, to the air conditioning system that runs throughout the aircraft. Her workscope involves analysing issues and providing solutions to ensure an aircraft meets all aviation and airworthiness requirements.

As Malaysia Airlines is a holder of Design Organisation Approval (DOA) by Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), she has been empowered by the airline to design and develop various in-house repairs and modifications, over and above what is provided by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), after careful analysis of all relevant certification data.

Recalling on when she first started on the job, Noorfariza initially struggled to stand out in her team, with roughly only 10% of them being female. “As a fresh graduate, I came in with little work experience and had limited knowledge of the task ahead of me. On top of that, I was quite shy at the time, thus I tend to blend into the background.”

“Over time I realised that this could not be allowed to continue, and that to succeed, I had to become bold and confident. I worked hard, I spent many hours doing extra reading, research and learning, poring through manuals and regulations and exposed myself to new experiences in the workplace whenever I can. I knew that knowledge is key to confidently perform at my job and make sure I do the very best I can.  Eventually, I had found my voice and I take pride in the work I do today.”

Small Wins, Personal Fulfilment

A mother of one, Noorfariza has a son named Aidan who is turning nine soon. Managing to strike the right balance between family life and her career, she attributes this to a healthy support system from her family who have always been there throughout her journey. 

“I love being an engineer, and I love being a mother. There are times when duty calls and I need to work extra hours at work. Living 45 minutes away from work can also take its toll, but thankfully I have the full support of my family. They know how much I love my job and have never told me to “focus on family” or take on less at work. I dedicate my weekends to my family, where I can truly let loose and give them my all. I love to do getaways and staycations with them and truly spend that family time together.”

Over her 11-year career, Noorfariza has enjoyed many self-described “small wins”, from the repairs and modifications to the cabin interior initiated by her, ranging from decals to Business Class seats.

Notably, she was a key member of a team that recently spearheaded the airline’s cabin refurbishment programme at the height of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where most of the airline’s aircraft were on ground. 

“We took the opportunity of this downtime to push ourselves to think outside the box to establish a higher standard of cabin appearance, which is typically a costly program. Still, we challenged ourselves to find alternative ways in doing things and reaching a solution in the most cost-efficient manner possible. We came up with new ways to repair damages in-house, we took advantage of being a DOA holder to analyse these repairs, and we capitalised on our skilled in-house manpower to achieve significant cost savings. I’m proud of how everyone got together to reach this goal. We had a showcase of our accomplishments to the GCEO and GCOO, and I had the honour of presenting this to them, and I believe they were satisfied and happy with it. It is still a work in progress, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Follow Your Passion

A true silent hero of Malaysia Airlines, her efforts in the cabin interior programme have surely contributed to pleasant experience for passengers onboard. Her role in visualising, translating, and manifesting all the offerings the airline provides to its passengers is hoped to inspire the next generation of engineers, who like her was always curious about that metal tube soaring gracefully in the blue sky.

To Noorfariza, the key to be a trailblazer and creating your own path forward is passion. “Follow your passion, just as I followed mine. Take your time to get to know yourself and where your strengths truly lie, no matter which career you choose to pursue.”

“To the young girls out there, looking to enter male-dominated fields as I have, just know that passion trumps the barrier you face, right through that glass ceiling. Have faith in your dreams, be willing to work hard to achieve your dreams and amazing things will happen!”

Images courtesy of Malaysian Airlines Group