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How to become an aircraft maintenance engineer

How to become an aircraft maintenance engineer

Here we examine what it takes to become an aircraft maintenance engineer, and what you can expect from the role.

Written by Jack Stratten

How to become an aircraft maintenance engineer

Aircraft maintenance engineers are highly skilled professionals who install, maintain and repair aircraft engines, frames, systems and structures.

Their skills are vital to the aircraft industry, and it therefore offers a potentially long, rewarding and lucrative career option.

But what does it take to become an aircraft maintenance engineer? What qualifications do you need? What training do you have to undertake? And what kind of person do you need to be to succeed?

Here’s our guide to the journey you’ll need to take to join this hugely respected profession.

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What qualifications do you need to become an aircraft maintenance engineer?

Becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer isn’t straightforward – and there are a number of routes into the role.

To become an aircraft maintenance engineer, you need a licence from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). There are two types of licence: a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Part 66 licence for working on EASA aircraft, and a UK National British Civil Airworthiness Requirements (BCAR) Section L licence for working on non-EASA aircraft.

However, the predominant licence for aspiring engineers is the EASA version.

Within EASA licencing system, there are a further two categories of licence for you to choose from:

• Category A: This allows the holder to provide limited certification of inspection and maintenance tasks. A six-month approved course in addition to one year of certified experience is required to obtain it – making the quicker and easier, but more limited route.

• Category B: This allows the holder to supervise, certify and execute a far bigger range of activities related to the maintenance and repair of aircraft. A two-year approved course and a further two years’ experience is required for this licence, but it will ultimately lead to more career options and potentially a higher salary.

Another way of becoming qualified is the so-called ‘self-improver’ route.

Essentially, this means gaining 5 years of relevant experience in the industry, and then studying part-time.

Whether you take the full-time or part-time route, courses are available at colleges and universities throughout the UK.

It’s also worth noting that many commercial airlines including British Airways, Virgin and many other organisations offer apprenticeship schemes that give you all the experience and qualifications you need to obtain your licence. So, in some cases, the riddle of navigating this career journey is solved by landing the right job at the very beginning.

However, competition can be fierce, so it’s really worth picking up all the experience and training you can before applying.

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What personal skills do you need?

First and foremost, this is quite a physically demanding job, so you’ll probably need to pass a medical exam and perhaps even a colour vision test.

Inevitably, an excellent understanding of maths and science is essential, and you’ll need to be a logical thinker as well as a natural problem solver. Any type of engineer must also possess patience, diligence and an obsession with accuracy and detail.

That passion for detail is especially important because this is an often strenuous job – and not for those with a tendency to drift.

You’ll also need to be someone who thrives under pressure, because you’ll often work on turning around aircraft with very tight schedules.

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What working conditions can you expect?

The hours are normally 37-40 a week, but working overtime is very common because of the nature of the job. After all, this is work that has to be finished.

It’s also likely that you’ll work in a shift pattern that includes weekends, to coincide with all flying hours.

The setting can vary greatly. You could work on pre-flight checks, which normally occur outdoors in all weather conditions. You may also work inside hangars or workshops.

Working inside an aircraft can often mean working in awkward positions, and some work could be at height. It is however an increasingly safe and well-regulated workplace where your safety is very well protected.

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Where are you likely to work?

Most aircraft maintenance engineers work for major airlines. These airlines regularly offer training schemes to get into the industry, and offer roles once qualification is completed.

However, you may also work for a small, independent airline or within the police, air ambulance, surveying, agriculture or pilot training sectors, among others.

Opportunities to work internationally are reasonably common, primarily through UK airlines operating abroad – but sometimes for overseas airlines too. Within Europe, opportunities are common because your EASA licence will automatically permit you to work on other European planes. However, in the post-Brexit world this could change – questions remain about how licencing will work in the future.

Some engineers also work on a freelance basis, although this is fairly rare and those who do become self-employed are typically very experienced.

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What are the long-term career opportunities for aircraft maintenance engineers?

Your long-term prospects as an aircraft maintenance engineer are good.

Once fully licensed, progression into senior and supervisory roles is common and easily attainable. Beyond this, it’s also possible to move into managerial or directorial positions.

Other engineers often move into aircraft manufacture and production, assisting with fitting, design and development. It’s also common for engineers to become fitters for the armed forces.

It’s certainly also possible, with additional study and experience, to move into different areas of engineering, or to teach other aircraft maintenance engineers.

Otherwise, many engineers remain in the role throughout their career quite contentedly, with earnings in excess of £45,000 a year perfectly normal with the right experience.

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Begin your journey today!

Whether you’re looking for a training programme with a major airline or you’re a fully licenced engineer looking for a new opportunity, register your CV today and we’ll help you make your next move.

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