CAREER IN AVIATION MAINTENANCE
Nature of the Work: Aviation maintenance mechanics (including air-frame and powerplant technicians, avionics technicians and instrument repairmen) have the important responsibility of keeping airplanes in a safe condition to fly. In this effort they service, repair, and overhaul various aircraft components and systems including airframes, engines, electrical and hydraulic systems, propellers, avionics equipment, and aircraft instruments.
The nature of the work has changed greatly in recent years and will continue to change rapidly because of advances in computer technology, solid-state electronics, and fiber composite structural material. Aircraft mechanics may be licensed or unlicensed. The licensed mechanic may hold a Mechanic's Certificate with an Airframe rating, Powerplant rating or both expressed as A & P; or a Repairman's Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA Mechanic Certificates are issued upon successful completion of oral, written, and practical examinations.
The Airframe, Powerplant or Airframe and Powerplant Certificates allows a mechanic to work only on those specific parts of the aircraft; i.e. engines, airframe and systems for which he is rated. The mechanic with the FAA's Repairman Certificate can work on those parts of the aircraft that the certificate specifically allows, such as radio or instruments, propellers, etc. If the repair person works on transmitting equipment aboard the aircraft (radio, radar, etc.), he or she must also hold a license from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
General radio telephone operator licenses are issued by the FCC to applicants who successfully complete the written test. Aircraft mechanics employed by the airlines perform either line maintenance work; i.e., routine maintenance, servicing, or emergency repairs at airline terminals; or major repairs and periodic inspections at an airline's overhaul base. Aircraft mechanics employed in general aviation do maintenance and repair work similar to airline mechanics; however, the equipment they service is generally smaller in size but may be just as complex.
Depending upon the type of work they do, aircraft mechanics and repairmen work in hangars, on the flight line, or in repair shops. They use hand and power tools along with test equipment. Noise levels are high and flight line mechanics often work outdoors in inclement weather conditions when making emergency repairs. Sometimes the work requires the use of ladders or scaffolds and the physical demands can be heavy. Frequent lifts or pulls of up to 50 pounds are normal and the physical requirements include stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling.
Aircraft mechanics often work under pressure to maintain airline flight schedules or, in the case of general aviation, to minimize inconvenience to customers beyond a reasonable period of time. While doing so, the aircraft mechanic cannot sacrifice high standards of workmanship to speed up the job.
The scheduled airlines employ approximately 50,000 mechanics at various terminals and overhaul bases located throughout the U.S.A. and overseas. The major overhaul facilities are located in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Denver, Atlanta, Kansas City, Tulsa, and Minneapolis.
In addition, approximately 85,000 A & P licensed mechanics are employed in general aviation for air taxi and fixed base operators, aerial applicators, flight training schools, supplemental airlines, corporations owning fleets of aircraft and aircraft manufacturers. Also, mechanics and technicians are employed at some 4,000 FAA certified repair stations in the U.S.A.
Another large employer is the U.S. Government which employs approximately 100,000 civilian air-craft (Certificated/uncertificated) mechanics and avionics technicians to work on military aircraft at Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force installations in the U.S. and overseas. In addition, FAA employs approximately 150 maintenance personnel who work at various locations in the U.S. and overseas. A majority of these persons work at the FAA's main overhaul base located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Aircraft mechanics generally work 40 hours a week on eight-hour shifts around the clock, and overtime work is common. The basic airline mechanic's starting wage is approximately $24,000 per year ($12.00 per hour), but there are increases in salary for longevity, licenses held, line work, or shift work. A lead airline mechanic with an A & P certificate and 10 years experience can expect to make in excess of $40,000 per year ($20.00 per hour).
In general aviation, mechanic's salaries are determined largely by the size of the aircraft serviced. One national survey of general aviation mechanics holding an A & P license showed an average starting salary of $13,000 per year ($6.50 per hour), but increasing to $19,000 per year ($9.50 per hour) after five years on the job. Mechanics without an A & P license make considerably less and usually have more difficulty finding work. It is anticipated that wages for general aviation mechanics will increase over the next few years, but will remain lower than the salaries paid by the large airlines.
Paid holidays, vacations, insurance plans, retirement programs, and sick leave are some of the benefits offered by both airline and general aviation employers. Airlines also give their employees free or reduced price transportation to destinations within their route structure and exchange travel privileges with other airlines. General aviation offers more local points of employment.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the Transport Workers Union of America are the principal unions representing aircraft mechanics, but some mechanics are also represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
An apprentice mechanic who has gained the required experience with engines and airframes, or an applicant who is a graduate of an approved aircraft mechanics course can acquire the A & P I Mechanic Certificate. Mechanics with 30 months combined experience or 18 months airframe experience or powerplant experience may take the Airframe, Powerplant, or the Airframe amp; Powerplant exams based on practical experience. Mechanics who attain these top ratings have an increased opportunity to advance to higher paying jobs as lead mechanics, crew chiefs, inspectors, or shop foremen. Promotion to these higher grade jobs with the airlines is usually attained as a result of company seniority.
Applicants for a repairman certificate must have 18 months of practical experience in the maintenance duties of the specific job for which the person is to be employed by the repair station or have completed formal training acceptable to FAA. Avionic repair stations usually employ technicians who may be required to hold an FCC license. A few mechanics with advanced ratings and administrative ability reach supervisory and executive positions, while those who have broad experience in maintenance and overhaul facilities become designated inspectors for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mechanics with the necessary pilot licenses and flying experience may take FAA examinations for the position of flight engineer, with opportunities to become pilots.
Educational: While a high school diploma is not required to become an apprentice aircraft mechanic, employers give preference to applicants who are high school or vocational school graduates; thus, such a diploma is essential. Mathematics, physics, computer science, chemistry, English, and aerospace education courses are suitable subjects to pursue while in high school, because the aircraft mechanic I avionics technician must understand the physical principles involved in the operation of the aircraft and its systems. Also, a high school diploma is normally recommended as a prerequisite for attending a technical school or a college offering A & P training. The aircraft mechanic is expected to continue his or her education, even after hiring, in order to keep abreast of the continuing technical changes and improvements in aircraft and associated systems.
Personality: The successful aircraft mechanic should have an above average mechanical ability and a desire to work with his hands. He or she should also have an interest in aviation, appreciation of the importance of doing a job carefully and thoroughly, and the desire to learn throughout a career.
The qualified student who wishes to become an aircraft mechanic can follow one of several paths:
He or she can begin work for an airline or an independent repair station as an apprentice mechanic, learning as one earns. This method of earning an A & P / Repairman's Certificate or the FCC license normally takes longer and earning power remains at a lower rate over a longer period of time.
She or he can take aircraft mechanic courses at one of the many FAA Certificated private or public technical schools. A high school diploma is normally recommended for entrance to these schools, but the period of training is normally shorter than on-the-job-training and earnings upon completion of the course are higher. Also, the graduate of such a course is qualified to take the FAA exams when the course is finished.
He or she can also receive training as an aircraft mechanic while in the military service and, with some additional study, can qualify for a civilian mechanic job when the period of military service is completed.
Public and private vocational institutions along with the military services are major suppliers of aviation mechanics. In the past, many airlines had standing orders with FAA approved aviation maintenance training schools and other educational institutions for all graduate mechanics, but the recent recession combined which deregulation of the airline industry has decreased job opportunities. At the present time, many licensed A &P mechanics are not working in their chosen field. The price of technical school training is expensive, costing several thousand dollars for an 18 to 24 month course. Fortunately, financial assistance is available through the U.S. Department of Education. For information, write to:
Office of Student Financial Assistance
400 Maryland Ave., SW.,
Washington, D.C. 20202.
A free list of FAA Certificated aviation maintenance technician schools, (Advisory Circular 147-2W), is available from:
U.S. Department of Transportation
Publications Section, M-494.3
Washington, D.C. 20590.
The World Aviation Directory, which is available in the reference section of many libraries, has the most comprehensive listing of aircraft operators, manufacturers, and associated companies that design, produce, overhaul, and maintain aircraft.
The long-term employment outlook for aviation maintenance personnel (including A &P, Airframe, Powerplant, and Avionics technicians) is very encouraging. One study indicates that over the next few years there will be an annual average of 10,000 job openings for aircraft avionics maintenance personnel, increasing to 40,000 openings per year by 1990. These numbers are the result of analysis of anticipated aviation industry growth rates and projected retirements of the World War II and Korea era veterans, who presently hold many of the aviation maintenance jobs in airline and general aviation activities. Other studies are less optimistic about employment opportunities, but all emphasize the fact that the well trained, licensed individual with a strong background in technical subjects will have little trouble finding work in aviation of associated technical fields.
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