Education and Training High school plus training
Salary Median—$21.77 per hour
Employment Outlook Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Aircraft mechanics—also called airframe mechanics, power plant mechanics, and avionics technicians—service, repair, and inspect airplanes for commercial airlines, private firms, and the military. Although some mechanics are specialists, most have thorough knowledge of all parts of airplanes, including their engines, propellers, landing gear, hydraulic equipment, radio and radar instruments, and bodies.
Sometimes pilots report faulty equipment to maintenance crews. However, defects are usually discovered during the regular inspections made on all aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all planes be inspected and tested for safety after they have flown a certain number of hours. Mechanics must take full responsibility for any repairs that are required. They can lose their FAA licenses if the planes are not in perfect condition.
Line maintenance crews work at airports, making quick repairs on planes that are scheduled to take off. Major repairs are handled at an airline's overhaul base, where mechanics are usually more specialized. They may work on only one part of their companies' planes, such as the engine or the landing gear.
At smaller airports, airplane charter services, and general aviation repair shops, mechanics work on all parts of planes. Other aircraft mechanics work in plants where planes are manufactured. Sometimes they go on test flights to discover and correct any problems that new aircraft may have.
Education and Training Requirements
Mechanics should be agile, work well with their hands and tools, and have good hearing and eyesight. Precision and attention to detail are important.
Employers require that applicants have high school diplomas or the equivalent. Useful subjects include mathematics, physics, chemistry, industrial drafting, auto and aircraft mechanics, machine shop, metal and wood shop, and welding. Applicants should be able to read and interpret blueprints, diagrams, electricity charts, and instructional manuals.
All aircraft mechanics must obtain government certification. Those with A licenses can work on airplane bodies; P licenses allow them to work on engines (also known as power plants). Some mechanics have both A and P licenses. Mechanics must pass written, oral, and practical tests to earn licenses. They must be at least eighteen years old and know how to read and write English.
Most mechanics study at FAA-approved schools for eighteen to twenty-four months. A growing number of companies require two- or four-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management from FAA-approved schools. Graduates of those programs are eligible for licensing tests. Mechanics who have not taken such courses must have eighteen months of practical experience before they can take the tests. Applicants who desire both A and P certification must have thirty months of experience working with both the framework and engines of airplanes. Often untrained workers start out as helpers under skilled workers.
Technological advances require mechanics to continue their education during their careers. FAA rules state that certified mechanics must have at least one thousand hours of work experience in any two-year period or they must take refresher courses in aviation technology and repair.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to employment offices of airlines. School placement offices, state employment services, and labor union offices can provide useful information on job opportunities and application procedures.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement is easiest for mechanics with both A and P licenses. Mechanics can advance to lead mechanic or to the rank of crew chief. Some become supervisors and maintenance superintendents. Very good mechanics may become FAA inspectors after taking examinations.
Employment of aircraft mechanics is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. However, while demand for air travel on both the large airlines and private and corporate aircraft may increase, demand for mechanics may be offset by technological advances that increase productivity. Still, openings can occur each year when workers retire or leave the field.
Most mechanics work forty hours per week, usually in eight-hour shifts. Those who have worked the longest are given their choice of shifts. Beginning mechanics usually find themselves on night or weekend shifts.
Aircraft mechanics work with heavy equipment and are often required to lift or pull objects weighing more than seventy pounds. They may also work in precarious positions, such as on the tops of wings and fuselages of large jet planes. They may work outside in unpleasant weather. Because noise and vibration are constant, mechanics must take measures to protect their hearing.
Aircraft mechanics' jobs are often stressful. They are under pressure to identify and repair mechanical problems quickly so airlines can maintain strict flight schedules. More important, they are responsible for the safety of aircraft passengers and crew.
Where to Go for More Information
Air Transport Association of America
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004-1707
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
9000 Machinists Place
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772-2687
Professional Aviation Maintenance Association
400 Commonwealth Dr.
Warrendale, PA 15096
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries depend on the size of the company, the level of certification, and experience. In 2004 the median wage for all mechanics was $21.70 per hour. Benefits included paid vacations and holidays, medical insurance, and reduced air fares.