So You Want to See the World as a Mechanic

It’s not just pilots who get the travel bug and want to see the world. A lot of mechanics — myself included — want a job which offers international travel as a benefit.

Early in my career, I did contract maintenance for a number of operators. In those days, if an aircraft broke down away from one of its bases, it was not unusual for a mechanic to pick up the parts and go to wherever the aircraft was located to fix it. In some countries it was just easier to send a mechanic with the part than try to ship it and get it through customs.

My travels took me all over the Caribbean, Europe, and the Middle East. Some trips were pure drudgery with very long days and nights across time zones — but there were others where I got to spend a day or two exploring a new and exciting city. While those days are gone, there are still opportunities for mechanics who want to combine work and travel.

The airlines

Some mechanics who want international travel look to the big airlines. No, not for the travel perks; those free space-available seats have just about vanished as the airlines cut flights. With sky-high load factors, even paying passengers have difficulty finding last-minute seats. But there are opportunities for maintenance work abroad with many airlines: overseeing the work done at foreign repair stations. So while most, if not all, the airlines use these repair stations for at least some of their maintenance, they still send their own employees to ensure oversight of the work. While this isn’t hands-on maintenance work, most companies want the qualifications and experience that comes with holding an A&P.

Cross training

But if you like fixing airplanes yourself, there’s no reason to give up your dream of combining that with travel to far-flung destinations. You just may need to be a little more creative. Recently, I did some consulting for a large American corporation that owns a mixed fleet of aircraft. The top executives frequently fly to China and other parts of Asia. Because of the difficulty of getting maintenance done in some of the places they travel to — getting a tire changed can be tough in some of these locations — the company decided it wanted a mechanic on every flight. The problem was that their aircraft only had one additional crewmember seat. Not wanting to give up having a flight attendant — or giving up an executive seat — the company offered the mechanic the opportunity to cross train as a flight attendant.

He now routinely flies around the world as a mechanic and as a flight attendant. I have to admit this is not a job combination that many mechanics of my era would have anticipated. But in this economy, flexibility and cross-training are key. I admire the company for acknowledging the importance of having qualified and skilled maintenance available on all trips and I admire the mechanic for taking advantage of an interesting opportunity.

John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at gogliaj@yahoo.com.

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