Achieving the Impossible

Jan. 26, 2006
Bill O’Brien talks about what keeps us from the goal of universal professional recognition. The definition of professional contains three major parts: education, recognition, and the ability to continue to meet high nationally recognized standards. While the first two are covered, the lack of a nationally recognized standard prevents a clear career path, and O’Brien offers recommendations of what it should contain.

Many a day I have spent sitting in an airport, between flights. During this “free” time I have pondered how we mechanics can achieve “professional status” in the eyes of the public and the rest of our peers in the aviation industry. But pondering can only take one so far. Myself and others, have pushed and shoved this rather novel idea of mechanics being considered a professional to the forefront ever since I came to FAA Headquarters in 1985. I remember being snickered at by those in power, industry, and even by my fellow mechanics I talked to in the field. Back then, even the remote concept that a “grease monkey” could become a “professional” was an impossible joke.

While chasing this dream of mine has been personally frustrating, some gains have been made. We now have the AMT Awards Program and the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award that provides for FAA recognition for mechanics. Remember, prior to 1992 there was none. In 2000, with the fierce support of Bob Haines of PAMA, the American Council on Education (ACE) located here in D.C., agreed to recommend that U.S. colleges and universities assign 67 college credits for the FAA Airframe and Powerplant certificate. Two years later, this ACE recognition allowed Eastern New Mexico University to offer a fully recognized two-year degree program for A&P mechanics over the Internet for under $500, plus books.

The Definition of Professionalism

But we still have a problem that keeps us from this goal of universal professional recognition. How so? The definition of professional contains three major parts. They are education, recognition, and the ability to continue to meet high nationally recognized standards. Education and recognition are no longer a problem for us. We have universities buying into our training and the FAA, a rather large government organization, is recognizing mechanics with AMT awards. So we meet two of the three requirements to be considered a professional.

So what is the problem with standards? With the exception of taking the IA test, A&P mechanics have no clear path to move up to a higher nationally recognized standard. So it is up to our own profession to develop nationally recognized standards and test individuals to that high standard. As of this date this has not been done. We mechanics continue to be recognized to be at the same minimum level of achievement as when we passed our “Orals and Practicals” no matter how skilled an individual mechanic we may become.

This lack of a higher “nationally recognized standard” for us to meet is the major reason why we are not considered “professional” by others outside of our career field. With no path, and no vision, we are forever stuck at the starting line. Perhaps that is why so many mechanics have given up and use the expression: “Who me? I am just a mechanic” when challenged to greatness.

Look at Other Industries

A suggestion. Why not imitate other professional trades? Why not assign three levels of testing, so a mechanic could transition from apprentice, to journeyman mechanic and finally to professional mechanic status? For this to work all tests must be given by a nationally recognized organization and all testing would have to be voluntary.

FAA can do the testing for the apprentice level and issue the A&P rating. For the journeyman level, the applicant can take the IA test or its industry equivalent. But that is the limit where the FAA can go by law. Remember FAA is restricted by Title 49 to set minimum standards for mechanics only. Industry now has to step up to the plate and test at the professional mechanic level.

I have even speculated just what a professional mechanic test would be like, and how hard it would be to pass it. I imagined this professional mechanic test containing at least 100 tough essay questions, equally divided between general, airframe, powerplant, electrical, and regulations. While I believe this test should be tough, it should also be open book, with an eight-hour deadline from start to finish. Why open book? I do not want mechanics having to depend on memory for the answers. After all, not reading the manual is a major cause of maintenance-related accidents. So why test one’s memory, when all he or she has to do is know where to dig for the answer.

20 Questions

For my small contribution to the regulation section, I can offer 20 questions, all of which are in the regulations, or advisory circulars, or in articles that I have written. While you many agree or disagree with me today why not take my test just for the hell of it. It’s like eating chicken soup to cure a cold, it can’t hurt. Here we go:

1. What is the major difference in maintenance record entries between PMA and TSO parts?
2. What rule talks to remanufactured engines?
3. What government agency or administration created the Inspection Authorization and when did it happen?
4. How long is a mechanic responsible for the work performed on an aircraft?
5. How long is a mechanic responsible for an inspection to an aircraft?
6. What is the maximum number of mechanics who can sign off a 100-hour inspection on a Piper Aerostar?
7. Give one major difference between aircraft certificated under CAR-3 and FAR 23.
8. When were mechanics first licensed and who was the first U.S. licensed mechanic?
9. Of the five documents required to be on an aircraft prior to flight, what document is the most important?
10. What is the difference between a mechanic rating and an Inspection Authorization?
11. Name the three kinds of Airworthiness Directives.
12. Where is the definition of airworthy found?
13. What is acceptable data used for?
14. What is approved data used for?
15. What rule sets the minimum level of performance for mechanics?
16. What AC will tell you how to get a field approval?
17. What is the difference between rebuild and overhaul?
18. Is the Illustrated Parts catalog acceptable or approved data?
19. How many kinds of field approvals are there?
20. What are the penalties for falsifying a maintenance record?

The answers for each of the 20 questions will be explained in great detail in my next month’s article. Who knows, miracles do happen. Perhaps one of you out there might be motivated enough to latch onto this idea of a nationally recognized testing standard and build an organization to make the impossible happen.

About the Author

Bill O'Brien