Do you have what it takes?
By Fred Workley
What do you tell people about your profession? Assume that the people you are talking to don't know what you know because not everyone lives airplanes like those of us hooked on aviation. Tell them that typically, aviation maintenance personnel include Airframe and Powerplant mechanics, avionics technicians and instrument repairmen, and they all have a common responsibility for "keeping 'em flying." In this effort, they service, repair, and overhaul various aircraft systems and components including airframes, engines, electrical, and hydraulic systems.
Licensed to "keep 'em flying"
Also, tell them that most airlines and repair stations prefer to hire mechanics that are licensed. The licensed mechanic holds a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. This certificate has either an Airframe or Powerplant Rating or both. FAA mechanics' certificates are issued upon successful completion of the required training from an approved school, then passing written, oral, and practical examinations.
The Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) Certificate allows a mechanic to work on all parts of the aircraft: i.e. airframe, engine, cockpit, cabin, all the systems like pneumatics and hydraulics. Recently, I reviewed the final report, dated May 1999, on the "Job Task Analysis of the Aviation Maintenance Technician." The objective of this project was to update the Allen Study that was issued in 1974. The reported information was the result of an industry-wide survey about the tasks that aviation maintenance technicians performed.
Since 1974, the tasks an AMT performs have changed and the new report gives an updated description of tasks performed currently. The report gives some generic task descriptions that are general actions and skills that are associated with any system.
What does it take to become successful?
So, what does it take to become a successful Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic? And, what does it take to remain successful in this business of maintaining aircraft? Remember that maintenance means inspection, overhaul, repair, preservation, and replacement of parts, but excludes preventative maintenance.
The functions identified by the generic tasks have stayed fairly stable over the years. Understanding is gained through basic knowledge of the aircraft and the purpose and operation of each system. Servicing is performing regularly scheduled tasks in order to assure continued operation of the system and its components. Inspecting, including basic and detailed, is examining a system in order to determine if the system or any components are defective. Testing and checking are used to verify the proper system operation. Tests may be diagnostic, functional, or operational, and many times, tests and checks are used in conjunction with inspections to determine serviceability of a system or component.
Troubleshooting identifies and analyzes malfunctions. Successful troubleshooting entails complete knowledge of a system. This includes inputs and outputs of the system through information flow (communications) or hardware connections (kinetic) as well as within the system.
According to the report, there is another group of generic tasks that we also do when we work on aircraft. We can repair the system to re-establish its integrity. Repairing a system may mean the replacement of several individual components or the interface/connections between components. Replacing components pertains to a specific component within a system. Successful replacement includes verification that the affected system functions properly and that connections, electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic, between components work correctly. Repairing components may be more extensive than replacement tasks since they involve opening and fixing the components that have been removed or replaced. No person may describe any maintenance as rebuilt unless it has been disassembled, cleaned, inspected, repaired as necessary, then reassembled and tested to the same tolerances and limits as a new item or manufacturer's specifications.
On the other hand, overhaul has both broad and narrow meanings, but it is the complete disassembly, inspection, and repair of possibly a complete system. Often, components not repaired are evaluated for tolerances and other qualities related to serviceability in order to determine the impact on airworthiness.
Some systems have tasks that do not fit the definitions of repair, replace, or overhaul. For these tasks, like painting or preservation, successful performance is based on competency with the objective being to follow a procedure or process.
How did we get here?
If these are the types of tasks that we perform, what does it take to become a licensed professional? Many of us went to school for a long time. How did we make it through school? Well, we were committed to a goal to seek knowledge. We did things like prepare for class. In retrospect, we proved our reliability and demonstrated our ability to solve problems and think logically. We were organized and had our act together.
Now you know why you are in demand. You are willing to take direction. You're inquisitive. You are very positive with a "can do" attitude. You work well alone or with others. Your interpretive skills are excellent. You translate well from print to voice, print to action, and voice to action.
Back in August of 1994, I was involved in a brainstorming exercise that tried to collect the characteristics of inspectors. These were developed as a guide to a course on how to inspect. After thinking about it, I tripled the number of the items on the original list because technicians can do it all. You're a super mechanic/technician/engineer/person, plus chief cook and bottle washer. That turns out to be equal to a Super AMT.