Overview of Our Profession

Recently I have been getting a lot of requests from young people for some information on how to become a mechanic, and what the work around aircraft is like.

Working conditions
The majority of mechanics and avionics technicians work in hangars, on flight lines, or repair stations located on or near large airports. They use hand and power tools as well as sophisticated test equipment. The noise level both indoors and on the flight line can be very high. Those mechanics and technicians performing flight line maintenance often work in all kinds of weather and temperatures.

All aircraft mechanics and technicians must perform moderate to heavy physical activity. From climbing ladders to crawling under wings, the physical demands can be arduous. Frequent lifts or pulls of up to 50 pounds in weight are not uncommon.

Stress is another factor that aircraft mechanics and technicians must deal with. Working for a scheduled airline, the pressure to meet a gate time, or to meet a deadline for a corporation aircraft can be high. However, a mechanic or a technician must never sacrifice the high standards of workmanship and public trust just to meet a schedule.

Wages and benefits
The aviation maintenance industry is broken down into two separate areas: Air Carrier and General Aviation.

Air Carriers - offer mechanics and technicians a starting yearly salary between $20,000 to $27,000 for a 40-hour week. Mechanics with a strong avionics background usually start between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. Maintenance is performed around the clock, seven days a week. New mechanics and technicians should expect to work nights and weekends. Within five years, the salary for a mechanic with an Airframe and Power plant Rating (A&P), should be between $35,000 to $45,000 a year. An avionics technician should earn between $38,000 to $48,000 a year.

Air carriers offer paid holidays, vacations, insurance plans, retirement programs, sick leave, and free or reduced cost air travel within the airlines route structure. There are also opportunities to bid for maintenance positions at other locations the airline serves. With a larger workforce, the opportunities for advancement maybe greater with an air carrier, than with other segments of the aviation maintenance industry because of the high numbers of aircraft in the air carrier's fleet and the large number of cities served.

General Aviation - is composed of many different types of organizations. These organizations are involved in all kinds of aviation activities from corporate transportation to agricultural application. Many aviation mechanics and technicians work for small Fixed Base Operators (FBO) or FAA Part 145 Repair Stations that service and maintain the private/corporate aircraft fleet. The starting salary for these mechanics range between $18,000 to $24,000 a year. For avionics technicians the starting salary is between $22,000 to $28,000 a year. After 5 years a mechanic's salary range is between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. An avionics technician's salary is between $28,000 to $35,000 a year. Normal general aviation working hours are weekdays between 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, working nights, weekends, or working overtime is not uncommon in this industry.

General Aviation benefits packages vary greatly, depending on the organization. Many general aviation operations rival the compensation packages of the large air carrier, while other general aviation maintenance operations offer little in the way of health or retirement benefits.

Some individuals are drawn to general aviation despite a lower pay scale and less generous benefits package because most of the general aviation jobs are found at the local airport or in smaller cities, where the quality of life is less hectic and the cost of living is less than those cities with the large hub airports.

Overview of Our Profession

By Bill O'Brien

October 1999

Maintenance occupations
There are two types of maintenance technicians: non-certificated mechanics and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificated mechanics.

Non-certificated mechanic - Can work only under the supervision of a certificated person. Non-certificated mechanics work in manufacturing, FAA Repair Stations, Air Carriers, and Fixed Base Operators (FBO). Since the FAA does not certificate these mechanics, there are no Federal certification requirements to meet. However, a job applicant must still meet the employer's requirements. As a non-certificated mechanic, he or she cannot sign off a maintenance record "approving the aircraft or component for return to service." Because of this limitation, a non-certificated mechanic is restricted in the scope, function, and duties he or she can perform. This limited level of ability also reduces the chances of advancement in the maintenance career field.

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