Over the years I have formulated a personal hypothesis about the status of the maintenance side of the aviation industry and how we got there. It is my humble, and perhaps flawed, opinion that with a few rare exceptions, the flying public view mechanics as rubes who are capable of performing only the many mindless tasks it takes to maintain an aircraft.
Who, I wondered, created this totally negative image of a mechanic? After all, weren’t Orville and Wilbur bicycle mechanics before they were pilots? And, if history is to be believed, during the 1920’s and 1930’s, pilots had to be mechanics or they would never fly out of that farmer’s field with a paying passenger. But, back then the world was different and the importance of a good mechanic was not taken lightly, so much so that very first words Charles Lindbergh said to a mob of admirers after arriving in Paris were "Are there any mechanics here?"
I believe there were three factors that created this negative image.
World War II
Right now I can hear some History Channel wag say "Way to go O’Brien, blame everything on Hitler." Okay, it’s true, I don’t like the guy, but just hear me out. The U.S. military formalized the enlisted status of mechanics way before the war, but World War II institutionalized the status of mechanics in the minds of millions who served. The military decreed that pilots were officers and gentlemen by Act of Congress, and mechanics were sentenced to the enlisted ranks and given less pay, privileges, and status — where they remain to this day. To make matters worse, after the war, this military concept for ranking pilots and mechanics was then transferred, intact, into civilian air transportation.
With one rare exception, that being the American Airlines commercial that featured a lead mechanic walking through a terminal and talking about professionalism and importance of a well-maintained aircraft; for the last 50-plus years, Hollywood has picked up on the public’s negative, stereotyped image of a aircraft mechanic and put us on the big screen and on TV to serve as comic relief.
Those of my generation can remember Captain Midnight who flew his jet off a mountaintop and saved the world at every Saturday matinee. The Captain was a Greek god of good looks, which contrasted sharply against the amiable, short, dumb, less-than-good-looking aircraft mechanic named Ichabod "Icky" Mudd — with two "d’s."
Younger mechanics might remember Lowell Mather, the dim-witted and socially-challenged mechanic on the TV show "Wings" from the 1990’s. Lowell’s idea of a good time was to take a six pack, his .22 calibre rifle, and a flashlight down to the city dump and shoot rats.
Peculiar as it might seem, Hollywood portrayed both Mudd and Lowell as excellent mechanics that could routinely fix anything, in no time, using nothing at all — but that was all they could do. After all, they were "just a mechanic" — social misfits who were as dumb as a box of rocks.
Our own enemy
The third cause is us. How so? It’s because many of us believe the negative image. We may be stoic, hard-nosed, practical, and strong-willed individuals, but we are human. This negative stereotype of a mechanic has been around for over 60 years, and 60 years is a long time to listen to a soothing lie. Over time, even the strongest among us, — despite taking 9 FAA exams, attending 1,900 hours plus of Part 147 school training or documenting 4,800 hours of practical experience. After one hears, sees, and experiences the same lie enough times — one comes to believe the lie to be true.
The day you validate the lie is the day you catch yourself saying to your boss or spouse, "I am just a mechanic." It is only when you repeat it over and over again, "I am just a mechanic," that you take the next step. You begin to apologize for the profession you are in. Repeated enough times, those words slowly become your crutch for your failings, your excuse for not trying harder, your mantra to explain away individual weaknesses and defeats.
Now the lie has morphed into a belief. Now you have internalized the belief that you can never be considered a professional, let alone be recognized as one.
Credit where credit is due
Well, the time for self-pity is over, the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have done a terrible thing to mechanics that believe the lie.
On January 30, 2001, the American Council on Education (ACE) took away this crutch. They stomped on this excuse, refused this apology and ceased invoking this mantra and granted holders of FAA mechanic certificates with Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) ratings issued on August 1, 1988 and later, the following credit recommendations:
General examination - At the lower division baccalaureate or associate degree level, 14 semester hours in Aviation Science.
Powerplant Examination - At the lower division baccalaureate or associate degree level, 28 semester hours in Aviation Science.
Airframe Examination - At the lower division baccalaureate or associate degree level, 25 semester hours in Aviation Science.
Note: ACE requires that the General, Airframe and Powerplant examinations must all be successfully completed and the FAA mechanic certificate with A&P rating issued for 67 recommended college credits. So, if you only have a powerplant rating, you cannot get the 42 credits for the general and powerplant exams from ACE — you must have both the A&P ratings to get credit.
The August 1, 1988 date was fixed because the FAA could only supply A&P exams back to that date. Because of editorial limits, in my next article I will address mechanics who were issued their A&P prior to that date on how they can also obtain college credits for their certificate.
To maintain a current list of mechanics in the ACE database, the FAA will update the ACE data file every three months as more new mechanics come on board or corrections to the database like changes to addresses, names, etc. We tried to make the whole process comic book simple, but I foresee two problems:
First problem: If a mechanic who:
• Has not been issued another FAA certificate, or
• Is not a pilot with a current medical, or
• Is not an IA or,
• Has not updated his address as he is supposed to in accordance with FAR section 65.21 "Change of Address" rule then:
The ACE postcard will never reach you.
Now, don’t call up and complain to ACE or the FAA that you are not one of the chosen ones. The problem with updating your file in OKC is yours to fix.
I estimate that ACE will have to send out approximately 100,000 postcards on the first run. Since I am a card-carrying pessimist, I fear that none of this notification business will happen overnight or run as smoothly as we would like, therefore, I am going to recommend to ACE that their postcard notification be sent out in a September or October timeline in order to give everyone a chance to update his or her record in OKC.
Second problem: If you have sent in a request to the FAA to keep your name out of the public domain databases so you won’t be bugged with advertisements or petitions for this or that, the FAA will not send your name to ACE. To correct this freeze on your record, you will have to send a letter to Airmen Certification permitting them to send your name to ACE at the next quarterly update.
How to get a college degree
Okay, let’s pretend that several months have passed by and you have in your hot little hands 67 ACE recommended credit hours which are accepted at over 1200 colleges and universities nation-wide. Please remember this one salient fact before you embark on the quest for higher education: Colleges and universities are a business. Like any other business, they exist to make money and they make money by offering courses and degrees. You might find some colleges that will accept all of the ACE recommended college credits, but will extract an extra pint of blood and pound of flesh by back-loading additional credit hours in humanities, sciences or basket-weaving to bring extra money into their coffers.
Other colleges might accept a reduced number of ACE recommended credit hours blaming incompatibility of the ACE recommended credits with their degree program. So, you have to look around for the best deal. But no matter what college you pick, I am sure you will have to take some additional college courses. The questions that remain to be answered are how many, and how much will they cost?
What the ACE’s transcript will do for you is cut down on the negotiation time by standardizing the amount of credit for the 44 aviation subjects that are covered in the FAA A&P test. Since ACE has already published the 67 credits for an A&P in their 2001 Guide to Educational Credit by Examination catalog, each college that you talk to already knows how many credits ACE has assigned.
Spoiled for choice
Since 1,200 colleges nationwide recognize ACE, you have a lot of colleges to choose from. Don’t forget to remind college admission officers about their competition. A good time to do this is when they are figuring out the additional courses that you will have to take to meet their requirements. Quietly mention that in these days of distance learning, night and weekend classes that you have a lot more options available to get a degree. Also remind them that there are over 100,000 eligible mechanics out there who also want the best deal. So, the first lesson you will learn when you start college is the art of negotiation from a position of power.
I would like to thank a lot of people who helped us make possible this leap into being recognized as a professional career. The first folks to be recognized are PAMA past President, Stan Mackiewicz and current President, Brian Finnegan for their vision and support. Next, is Mr. Bob Haines, an Line Maintenance Duty Manager at Delta Airlines in Orlando, who represented the industry and knows how to make magic happen. How can I forget, Mr. Todd Piltz, a summer college intern from Hawaii, who put together the FAA workbooks and four feet of documentation to validate the content of the FAA exams and in the process now has a working understanding of what an indentured servant is? Next in the line for a thank-you, is FAA’s own, Ms. Linda McCoy, a Ph.D. in Education, who is based in OKC and helped me to understand terms like "interrater reliability" and "alterative-form reliability." Her boss, Mr. Robert Kopecky, who despite being a pilot, has supported this effort when it was easier to look the other way. Can’t forget to thank Barry Farnsworth from AFS-700, who is handling the database transfer. Last but not least, ACE’s Coordinator, Dr. Joseph Migliaccio, who headed the review team and ACE management team, and also Jo Ann Robinson and Nancy Musick for their patience in dealing with a bureaucrat.
The road ahead
In closing, my conscience requires me to tell you that despite the recognition and putting a college degree within each mechanic’s grasp we have done a terrible thing to you in getting this recommended credit. For the first time in 60 years, we have chosen to rid ourselves of excuses and beliefs that tied us down. In doing so, we have chosen the higher and harder road that will in time, "professionalize" our profession in the public’s eye and in ours. As we have done these terrible things, you and I will never be comfortable again because once you stretch your mind, you will never again be the same — you will no longer be "just a mechanic."
How to Apply
By the time you read this, AFS-760, Airman Certification Branch in Oklahoma City (OKC) will have sent ACE a list of all mechanics who were issued an A&P certificate from August 1, 1988 to the present. The information ACE requires from the FAA is the mechanic’s name, address, certificate number and date of issue. ACE will send each mechanic a postcard stating that the mechanic is eligible for 67 recommended undergraduate college credits and list three options.
1. Request a transcript and certificate of eligibility from ACE that could be sent either to the mechanic’s home address or to the college that he or she is interested in attending along with a check for $30.
2. Ask ACE to remove his or her name from their database.
3. Do nothing. You will still be in the database if you choose to go for the degree at a later date.
Updating your records
If you have changed your address, name or sex; you have the responsibility to notify FAA Airmen Certification in OKC using FAA AC Form 8060-55 Change of Address. So, I recommend that you send in the AC Form 8060-55 if you are not sure that the FAA has your latest address on record. The form can be found on the FAA web site: www.faa.gov under the "Public Inquiry" link or at your local FSDO.