Aircraft Mechanics – More Than You Think
When most people think of a career in the aviation field, they likely think of pilot jobs. These, after all, are the glamour jobs. Becoming a pilot, though, is not necessarily attainable for everyone. There are several other routes into airline jobs if you determine that becoming a pilot will not work for you: in-flight attendance, maintenance engineer, maintenance crew member and aircraft mechanic, to name a few. Let’s take a closer look at how to become an aircraft maintenance technician (also known as an aircraft mechanic) and what types of aircraft mechanic licenses are the most in-demand.
25 Jan 2016
Aircraft Mechanic Overview
An Aircraft Maintenance Technician (AMT) is someone who has earned a qualification to carry out aircraft maintenance. They inspect and perform maintenance on aircraft and aircraft systems, including preventive maintenance. This qualification gives you the knowledge and skills to serve as an aircraft mechanic.
In addition to maintenance, an aircraft mechanic’s job is to repair the mechanical and avionic equipment of planes and helicopters. This includes inspection and repair of the electronic, structural and mechanical elements of a plane. Mechanics assess how worn out parts are and determine whether those parts need repair or replacement. Mechanics use several diagnostic, manual and mechanical tools and computers in their trade.
FAA-certified mechanics are in high demand, as the military, government and airlines are all hiring aircraft mechanics.
To become an aircraft mechanic, you must be at least 18 years old, able to read, write, speak, and understand English and you must have 18 months of actual experience working on either airplane power plants (engines) or airframes, or 30 months of working on both at the same time. Alternatively, you can graduate from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School.
Much like a pilot, you will have to pass FAA written, oral and practical exams to be certified. Certain mechanic job types require even further training, which will also require further testing. If you do not have the appropriate certifications, you may only perform aviation-related work when you are supervised by someone with the appropriate ratings. You would also not be authorized to approve aircraft, airframes, engines, propellers, appliances or parts for return to service, and you will have much less chance of advancing in your career.
To be able to do their job well, aircraft mechanics should have the following skills:
• Detail-oriented – Mechanics must work to very high and precise standards, paying attention to even the smallest details and parts. Making sure these parts are in the right place and condition is crucial.
• Manual skills – As a very hands-on job, this field requires mechanics to be adept at using their hands to work quickly and accurately with various components. This includes the ability to take things apart and put them back together.
• Technical skills – Another part of the job will require you to read instruments and gauges, so the ability to understand how instruments and diagnostics tools work is important.
• Troubleshooting – Many times when a mechanic is called in, it’s because something is not working correctly. If you want an airline job as a mechanic, you should be able to dig down to the root cause of a problem and figure out the best way to fix it.
Aircraft Mechanic Career Paths and License Types
General mechanics have successfully completed the basic aircraft mechanics course and earned a certificate. They work on many different kinds of aircrafts, like jets, piston-driven airplanes and helicopters.
Specialized mechanics have gone on to earn higher qualifications concentrated on specific areas of the plane such as the engine, the hydraulic system or the electrical system on a particular aircraft.
Because airplanes are complex machines that must have reliable parts and service to safely carry passengers, mechanics must perform scheduled maintenance, complete repairs and make inspections before a plane is fit to fly. They must do these operations according to the detailed regulations set down by the FAA that specify maintenance schedules, for instance.
Most mechanics who work on non-military aircraft have either or both of the FAA’s Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificates (described below). Mechanics who have these certificates are legally able to perform work on most parts of the aircraft, except for flight instruments and major propeller work. (These require separate certifications.) Here’s a look at the various types of mechanics and which ones are in demand:
Airframe and Power plant (A&P) Mechanics
These are certified generalist mechanics who can perform most maintenance and alteration jobs on airplanes, including the engines, brakes, landing gear and air-conditioning system. The maintenance schedules for various planes and systems are based on factors such as the number of hours flown, the number of days since the last inspection, the number of trips flown or a combination of any of these. If specific issues come up at other times, they must also be addressed in a timely manner before the plane is able to fly again.
In order to measure the wear on parts and discover defects, A&P mechanics use precision instruments. For instance, they might use x-rays or magnetic or ultrasonic inspection equipment to look for cracks on a plane’s exterior that cannot be seen with the naked eye. They also look for corrosion, distortion and cracks in the main body of the plane, wings and tail. When they find defects, they repair the metal, wood, fabric or composite materials used to construct the airframe and skin.
After they complete repairs, mechanics test the equipment to verify that it works as it is supposed to. Planes with digital monitoring systems can give mechanics valuable information directly from an electronic console. These mechanics must also keep detailed records of all work they do on a plane.
A&P certifications are usually considered the first and most basic ratings a worker must have to be a professional aircraft mechanic.
Avionics technicians perform tests on a plane’s electronic systems and keep them in good flying and working order. As we use more and more digital technology, we need to spend more time maintaining computer systems. Repairing and maintaining many avionics and instruments systems can be done by mechanics who have earned the Airframe rating, but the avionics technician skills are needed for many other systems.
Some of these systems include the altitude system, the weather system, radio communications devices and equipment, and navigational aids, including the auto-pilot flying system. These technicians can also be certified to work on other parts of a plane, which makes avionics one of the most versatile mechanic career path options.
Some of their job duties include:
• Diagnosing electrical or mechanical problems
• Repairing brakes, electrical systems, wings, and other plane components
• Replacing defective parts with hand tools or power tools
• Examining replacement aircraft parts for problems or defects
• Reading maintenance manuals to determine repair procedures
• Testing aircraft parts with gauges and other diagnostic tools
• Inspecting finished work to make sure it meets performance standards
• Keeping records of all maintenance and repair work
Additional duties include:
• Testing electronic instruments with circuit testers, oscilloscopes, and voltmeters
• Interpreting flight test data to figure out malfunctions and performance problems
• Assembling components such as electrical controls and installing software
• Installing instrument panels with hand tools, power tools and soldering irons
Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DARs)
These specialized mechanics examine, inspect and test airplanes to measure their suitability for a safe flight. Once their determination is made, they issue airworthiness certificates, which planes must have to fly. The two types of DARs include manufacture DARs and maintenance DARs.
Inspection Authorized (IA) Mechanics
IAs have both Airframe and Power plant certifications and may also perform inspections on planes and return them to flying duty. These mechanics have the ability (and certification) to do a wider range of maintenance and alterations than any other kind of maintenance personnel, so they are highly sought-after. They often perform comprehensive annual inspections or verify that airplanes can return to service after they have undergone a major repair.
Repairmen certificates are given out by certified repair stations to aviation maintenance personnel that allow them to do specific functions. These certificates are good only while the mechanic is working at the repair center that issued the certificate – they do not transfer to other employers.
According to FAA aviation projections, aviation careers as a whole, including pilot jobs and other airline jobs such as mechanics, are on the rise in terms of both prospects and pay. The Bureau of Statistics says that in the airline mechanics field, mechanics who earn certification as Airframe and Power Plant mechanics will have the best job prospects ahead.
In 2014, the median wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians was about $57,000, and it was about the same for avionics technicians. The lowest 10 percent in each field earned about $35,000 or less, while the highest 10 percent earned around $85,000 or more.
Go For It
If you have been looking for a way into the aviation industry that does not involve piloting a plane, an aircraft mechanic is an excellent choice with good career prospects ahead. Start now to earn the requirements you need to gain entrance to a top training school and then work hard and prove yourself.
Before you know it, you will have earned FAA certification and be among the top mechanics in your field. To get an idea of the available jobs in the field and to start the process of applying for one of those jobs, head over to our jobs board and start browsing the latest postings. You’ll have a new airline mechanic’s job before you know it!