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Aircraft, Avionic and Airplane Technician Mechanic Careers, Jobs and Training

Career and Job Highlights for Aircraft, Avionic and Airplane Mechanic and Technician

  • The Federal Aviation Administration certifies close to 200 trade schools where you can become qualified to work in this industry.
  • While opportunities are great across the board, expect keen competition for high paying airline jobs.

Aircraft, Avionic and Airplane Mechanic and Technician Career Overview

Service technicians and aircraft and avionics mechanics must carry out periodic maintenance, take care of repairs, and perform inspections mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to keep airplanes operating optimally.

Aircraft mechanics are often called airframe, powerplant, or avionics aviation maintenance technicians, and focus primarily on preventive maintenance. Technicians must carry out all required maintenance, including replacing old components, and ensure everything is in running order by inspecting the engines, landing gear, instruments, pressurized sections, accessories—brakes, valves, pumps, and air-conditioning systems. Inspections are scheduled according one or a combination of the following factors; the number of hours in flight the airplane has amassed, number of days passed since the latest inspection, or the number of cycles of operations. Bigger, more complex airplanes contain monitoring systems made of electronic boxes and consoles \that track the airplanes main functions and contain information valuable to mechanics. Each airplane has special access doors that allow mechanics to check the engine, and special lifts and hoists to take out the engine in order to make repairs or replace it all together. At times mechanics will dismantle the engine, then use various tools and instruments to check components for corrosion, while x-rays and magnetic inspection equipment may be used to locate unnoticeable cracks. Old parts will be replaced with new ones, or undergo necessary repairs. Other aspects of the airplane need to be examined and serviced by mechanics as well, including sheet metal or composite surfaces, the tension of control cables, corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the fuselage, wings, and tail. Once the necessary repairs are made, the equipment should be run through a series of tests to ensure that it is functioning properly.

Repair work specialists must depend on the pilots to describe the issues in order to locate and repair equipment. A pilot might discover before takeoff that the fuel gauge is malfunctioning. Mechanics will then try to diagnose the origin of the problem, testing the electrical system in an effort to find any faulty wires, which they would then replace. As always, safety comes first, but mechanics perform their duties as fast as possible so that the airplane can remain in service.

A mechanics range of work can vary from jets to propeller-driven airplanes to helicopters. However, some find their niche by specializing in a specific area of the machine, like the engine, electrical system, or hydraulics. Powerplant mechanics have the authority to service and repair engines, as well as perform some work on propellers. Airframe mechanics have the authority to do any work on the plane, with the exception of work on instruments, powerplants, and propellers. A & P mechanics, otherwise known as combination airframe-and-powerplant mechanics, perform work on every part of the plane, except instruments. Most mechanics performing work on civilian planes are A & P mechanics. There are some independent repair shops that carry out inspections and make repairs on a variety of airplanes.

The capabilities of the airplanes have been improved by the avionics systems which form an important part of overall design. Parts utilized for aircraft navigation and radio communications, weather radar systems, and other instruments and computers that control flight, and engines, are repaired and maintained by avionics technicians. Such jobs may call for other licenses, like the radiotelephone license. More and more time is required to repair electronic systems, such as computerized controls, due to the advancements made in technology. At times technicians must perform an analysis of problems and create new fixes for complicated electronic problems.

Aircraft, Avionic and Airplane Technician Mechanic Training and Job Qualifications

Most of mechanics that work with civilian planes receive certification from the FAA as a “avionics repair specialist,” “airframe mechanic,” or a “powerplant mechanic.” Those with the authority to perform inspections carry out inspections and are in charge of certifying the work of others. Those mechanics without certification must be kept under the close watch of those with certification.

Airframe, powerplant, and avionics technicians must have 18 months of work experience as required by the FAA in order to receive full certification. A full 30 months of experience working with engines and airframes is necessary to attain a combined A & P certificate. Work experience can be replaced by completing a program in a FAA-certfied mechanic school. Either way, all applicants are required to pass both a written and oral test, and show the ability to complete the work the certification authorizes. An inspector’s authorization cannot be obtained until a mechanic has had the A & P certificate 3 years or more. The airlines typically require that mechanics obtain at least a high school diploma and the A & P certificate.

Most people become mechanics by learning the job through programs provided by the 200 trade schools that are certified by the FAA, although some mechanics learn only through on the job experience. A third of the schools have 2- or 4-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management.

As a requirement by the FAA and the law, all certified mechanic schools must provide students with at least 1,900 class hours. Programs run anywhere from 24 to 30 months and teach students how to use tools and equipment on the job. An emphasis on technology like turbine engines, aviation electronics, and composite materials is being added by aircraft trade schools. Also, an employee with the ability to perform many different duties is valued by employers.
Some Armed Forces assignments in mechanics give enough experience to meet the FAA certification requirements for work experience. These mechanics may be able to pass the certification exam by studying. However, the FAA requires a broader experience than most mechanics receive in their Armed Forces experiences. By and large the majority of Armed Forces mechanics must go through the whole trade school program, though some obtain enough experience and knowledge in the service. Regardless, experience in the military provide an applicant a great advantage when coupled with educational training through a certified trade school, and makes these select few the most desirable to employers.

It is important to understand the certain principles taught in mathematics, physics, chemistry, electronics, computer science, and mechanical drawing because they help explain how an aircraft functions, and are both useful and at times necessary to know when making repairs. Good communication skills are paramount as well, and courses that focus on this area are helpful, because often times mechanics must write reports.

In order to maintain the validity of the A & P certification, regulations require current experience. A review course must be taken unless applicants have worked 1,000 or more hours in the field in the past 24 months. Due to the ever increasing complexity of airplanes, some employers insist mechanics stay up to date by taking training courses as they continue to work. In order to obtain and retain a job today, applicants must demonstrate a good understanding in electronics, as advancements in technology almost demand this. To stay certified, continuous training is also required. A minimum of 16 hours of training must be taken by mechanics every 24 months in order to maintain a valid certificate. Training requirements can be met by taking courses offered by manufacturers or employers, via outside contractors.

Mechanical work done on airplanes requires a higher than normal aptitude in mechanics. Applicants that have the right combination of motivation, enthusiasm, and a good work ethic and that can identify and solve mechanical problems are most desired by employers. An applicant should be agile, as a considerable amount of stretching and climbing are incorporated as part of getting the job done. Applicants should also not have a fear of heights, as they will often be working atop the wings and fuselages of bigger planes.

As experience is gained by airplane mechanics, they may take on new supervisory responsibilities as a lead mechanic, crew chief, inspector, or lead inspector. Those with the authority to perform inspections have the best chance in obtaining such jobs. Some supervisors even move up to become executives in the companies, thanks in part to the promotion methods practiced by many airlines which focuses on examinations. The FAA also hires inspectors who have a great deal of experience in many areas, from maintenance to overhauls. Some are able to open their own service facilities after undergoing additional business training. Since mechanics are always learning a variety of skills applicable to other areas, some will move on to become repairers and technicians in other industries.

Aircraft, Avionic and Airplane Technician Mechanic Job and Employment Opportunties

People with the necessary training in airplane mechanic programs have a great opportunity for employment as airplane and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians. Growth for airplane mechanics is expected to continue to increase on pace with the average growth in all industries through 2012, and many jobs will open up to replace retirees. Employment for avionics technicians is expected to be just off the pace of the average rate of growth. Currently, the aforementioned occupations are passing through a period of minimal growth, if any exists at all. The happenings of September 11, 2001 have hurt the economy, which in turn has adversely affected the amount of passengers traveling and caused airlines to reduce costs by grounding many flights and taking some airplanes out of service. But as the economy moves north again, the public will return to flying as means of travel, as well as the growth in population will help increase demand for more flights and consequently demand for more airplane mechanics and service technicians over the next ten years. Should the amount of graduates mechanic training programs continue to be less than optimal, graduates will have a great opportunity to find a job.

Through the year 2012, the majority of job openings will come as a result of retirement, as a good amount of mechanics are projected to call it quits over the next ten years, opening up thousands of positions each year. Still others in the field will leave it and find new work in related areas like automobile repair or other similarly related occupations. A positive outlook for the future of mechanics can also be attributed to the decline in students going to technical schools in order to learn the necessary skills of the trade. Additionally, many who have the capacity and talent to work in this field are choosing to attend traditional colleges and pursue a career in computer-related industries, or other fields which provide even better conditions in which to work. If this movement persists, demand for aviation mechanics will exceed the supply when the airlines industry experiences more growth.

FAA repair stations, small commuter and regional airlines will provide the best opportunities to applicants presently. The fastest growing portion of the airlines industry are commuter and regional airlines, but these smaller companies also pay lower wages and thus their job openings are not as attractive. However, as many experienced workers leave to work for the major airlines or move to a new occupation, some positions will open up. As advancements in the complexity of aircrafts continue, the demand for skilled and knowledgeable mechanics will increase. Competition will remain stiff, since the major airlines offer good wages and great travel benefits, which the majority of applicants find quite enticing. Yet, the expectations for the future still predict future opportunities will be better than recent years. Experience is the key, and gives applicants the best chance to secure a job. The highest demand will exist for those mechanics up to date with improvements in electronics and composite materials. Since the Federal Government is contracting out service and repair to privately owned corporations, the amount of positions available in airplane mechanics in the government is on the decline.

Historical Earnings Information

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians are earning a median hourly wage of $20.71 in 2002. The middle 50 percent range from $16.94 to $25.23. The bottom 10 percent earned $13.16 or less, and the top 10 percent made $28.92 or more.