Overview of Our Profession

Oct. 1, 1999
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.

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. Since school has already started, high school career counselors will be pointing to all kinds of career fields and handing out information to a lot of young men and women who have a big decision to make — What to do for the rest of their lives?

The following is meant to serve as a guide if you are asked to provide information, or if you are "volunteered" to speak at a career day. I hope this small effort might help you provide accurate and timely information to individuals considering our profession.

Aviation maintenance personnel work in a number of highly technical specialty occupations such as airframe and power plant maintenance, avionics (e.g. navigation, communication, and other electronic-based or depended systems), and instrument (e.g. navigation, flight, and engine) repair. These individuals hold in their hands the very important responsibility of keeping our fleet of U.S. registered aircraft operating safely and efficiently. To accomplish the goal of a 100 percent reliability that aviation industry and the flying public demands, these maintenance professionals maintain, service, repair, and overhaul aircraft components and systems.

Aviation maintenance is a dynamic career field. It has changed a great deal since Charles Taylor, the first aircraft mechanic, helped design, build, and maintain the engine on the 1903 Wright Brothers' Flyer. Now and in the future, aircraft maintenance will continue to change. This is due to the introduction of new designs and materials in aircraft construction and the interface between complex space-age systems such as navigation computers, fly-by-wire and solid-state fuel controls, as well as improvements in the time proven systems such as hydraulics, flight controls, and propellers.

Outlook for the future
The long-term employment picture for aviation maintenance is bright. A well trained, certificated individual with a strong background in technical subjects will have little trouble finding a lifetime career in aviation.

Where the jobs are
The scheduled airlines employ approximately 60,000 mechanics at terminals and overhaul bases throughout the United States and overseas. The major overhaul facilities are in New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Denver, CO; Atlanta, GA; Kansas City, KS; Tulsa, OK; and Minneapolis, MN. When you enter this career field, most likely you will start at a major overhaul center to learn the aircraft and the airline's maintenance procedures. Once you have acquired enough seniority, you can "bid out" to work at the line station of your choice. These line stations are located at every airport the airline services.

Approximately 37,000 mechanics are employed in general aviation. These mechanics work in the large metropolitan cities on 35 million dollar-plus corporate jets to radial engine powered agricultural aircraft operating from grass strips. FAA Part 145 Repair Stations are another segment of the aviation maintenance industry that hires mechanics. These repair stations (approximately 4,600) perform maintenance on aircraft from those as small and simple as the two-place, Piper J3 Cub to major overhauls on air carrier aircraft of 400 seats or more.

The United States government also employs many civilian aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians to work on military aircraft at Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force installations in the states and overseas. Another government employer is the FAA. Most of the FAA maintenance personnel work on flight inspection aircraft at the FAA main overhaul base in Oklahoma City, OK. State and local governments also employ mechanics to maintain and service aircraft used for government, emergency medical, or police activities.

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.

FAA Certificated Mechanics and Repairman - The FAA certificates aviation maintenance personnel in two ways: a mechanic certificate and a repairman certificate.

The vast majority of technicians are certificated as an FAA mechanic. Under an FAA mechanic's certificate there are two ratings: Airframe and Power plant. Although most certificated mechanics hold both ratings, and are referred to in the industry as an "A&P," there are many mechanics certificated only with an airframe (A) rating, or only a power plant (P) rating. To become an FAA certified mechanic an applicant must:

• Be 18 years of age or older,
• Be able to read, write, and understand English,
• Document 18 months of practical experience in either one of the rating sought, or 30 months of practical experience working concurrently on airframes and power plants, or graduate from an FAA Approved Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School.
• Must pass a written examination, an oral test, and a practical test for each rating.
• Pass all the prescribed tests within 24 months

Additional certification requirements for foreign applicants located outside of the United States at the time of the examination are:

• The applicant must demonstrate that a mechanic certificate is needed to maintain U.S. registered civil aircraft and that the applicant is EITHER a U.S. citizen or a resident alien.
• Positive identification of the applicant must be established. (i.e. passport)
• Applicant must provide a signed and detailed statement (original copy only, no duplicate copies will be accepted) from their employer substantiating specific type of maintenance performed on aircraft and the duration of each.
• The applicant must provide a letter obtained from the foreign airworthiness authority of the country in which the experience was gained or from an advisor of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that will validate their maintenance experience.
• All documents must be signed, dated originals, and traceable to the initiator.
• A fee for the document review will be charged in accordance with Part 187 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR)
• Applicants who do not meet the English requirements of 14 CFR Part 65, section 65.71(a)(2) will have their certificates endorsed: "Valid only outside of the U.S."

Repairmen are maintenance technicians that are certificated by the FAA for only one or two specific tasks. Because they are limited by function, they can only exercise the privileges of the repairman certificate by being under the supervision of FAA approved Repair Stations, Commercial operators, or Air Carriers where these specific tasks are routinely accomplished on a daily basis. It is the Repair Station, Commercial Operator, or Air Carrier who recommends an individual to be a repairman. To be eligible for a repairman certificate an applicant must be:

• At least 18 years of age
•Able to read, write, and understand the English language, NOTE: this may be waived for a repairman living outside the United States.
• Specially qualified to perform maintenance on aircraft or components
• Employed for a specific job requiring the special qualifications by a FAA certificated Repair Station, or a certificated commercial operator, or a certificated air carrier
• Recommended for the repairman certificate by his or her employer
• Have either 18 months practical experience in the specific job function (Industry X-Ray technician) or complete a formal training course acceptable to the FAA

Avionics Occupations - Avionics technicians work on some of the most advanced electronic equipment outside of an electronic research and development laboratory. It is not uncommon for the avionics bay of an air carrier aircraft to hold eight to ten million dollars worth of "black boxes" all of which need a highly qualified person to maintain them.

An individual who holds an FAA mechanic certificate with an airframe rating is authorized under his rating to maintain avionics equipment. But this privilege is allowed only if that individual is properly trained, qualified, and has the proper tools and equipment to perform the work.

There are also un-certificated individuals working for air carrier avionics departments or FAA certificated avionics repair stations. These individuals have gained experience in avionics repairs from serving in the military, working for avionics manufacturers, and other related industries.

Practical experience qualification requirements
Individuals who wish to become FAA certificated aircraft mechanics can choose one of three paths to meet the experience requirements for the FAA Airframe and Power plant certificate.

An individual can work for an FAA Repair Station or Fixed Base Operator under the supervision of an A&P mechanic for 18 months for each individual airframe, or power plant rating, or 30 months for both ratings. The FAA considers a "month of practical experience" to contain at least 160 hours. This practical experience must be documented. Some acceptable forms of documentation are: Pay receipts, a record of work (log book) signed by the supervising mechanic, a notarized statement stating that the applicant has at least the required number of hours for the rating(s) requested from an certificated air carrier, repair station, or a certificated mechanic or repairman who supervised the work. The pay scale for a trainee is usually minimum wage and additional study time will be required to prepare for the FAA mechanic examinations.

An individual can join one of the armed services and obtain valuable training and experience in aircraft maintenance. Care must be taken that an individual enters a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) that is one the FAA credits for practical experience for the mechanics certificate.

NOTE: Prior to requesting credit for a specific MOS or prior to joining the military, the individual should get a current list of the acceptable MOS codes from the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and compare it against the military MOS that he or she has or is applying for. When the 18/30-month requirement is satisfied the applicant should ensure that the MOS code is properly identified on his or her DD-214 Form. Check the white pages of the phone book for the address and phone number of your local FSDO, or you can call up the information on the Internet at www.faa.gov/avr/afshome.htm

In addition to the MOS code on the DD-214 form, the applicant must have a letter from the applicant's executive officer, maintenance officer, or classification officer that certifies the applicant's length of military service, the amount of time the applicant worked in each MOS, the make and model of the aircraft and/or engine on which the applicant acquired the practical experience, and where the experience was obtained.

Time spent in training for the MOS is NOT credited toward the 18/30-month practical experience requirement. As with experience obtained from civilian employment the applicant that is using military experience to qualify must set aside additional study time to prepare for the written and oral tests. Having an acceptable MOS does not mean the applicant will get the credit for practical experience. The authorization will be granted only after a complete review of the applicant's paperwork and a satisfactory interview with a FAA Airworthiness Inspector to ensure that the applicant did satisfy Part 65, Subpart D.

An individual can attend one of the 170 FAA Part 147 Approved Aircraft Maintenance Technician Schools nationwide. These schools offer training for one mechanic's rating or both. Many schools offer avionics courses that cover electronics and instrumentation.

A high school diploma or a General Education Diploma (GED) is usually an entrance requirement for most schools. The length of the FAA approved course varies between 12 to 24 months, but the period of training is normally shorter than the FAA requirements for on-the-job training.

Upon graduation from the school, the individual is qualified to take the FAA exams. A positive benefit of attending a Part 147 school is that the starting salary is sometimes higher for a graduate than for an individual who earns his certification strictly on military or civilian experience.

To apply to take the mechanic written test, the applicant must first present his or her Part 147 certificate of graduation or completion, or proof of civilian or military practical experience, to an FAA Inspector at the local FSDO.

Once the FAA inspector is satisfied that the applicant is eligible for the rating(s) requested, the inspector sign FAA Form 8610.2 Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application. There are three kinds of written tests: Aviation Mechanic General (AMG), Aviation Mechanic Airframe (AMA), and Aviation Mechanic Power plant (AMP).

The applicant must then make an appointment for testing at one of the many computer testing facilities worldwide. Contact the nearest FSDO for a computer testing facility. The tests are provided on a cost basis, but test results are immediate. If an applicant fails a test, then he or she must wait 30 days to either retake the test, or provide the testing facility with documentation from a certificated person that the applicant has received instruction in each of the subject areas previously failed, or have the bottom portion of AC Form 8080-2 Airman Written Test Report properly filled out and signed. The retest covers all subject areas in the failed section. All written tests must be completed within a 24-month period.

For a list of computer testing locations contact the nearest Flight Standards District Office or access the Internet at www.fedworld.gov. A list of sample general, airframe and power plant test questions is also available at the same Internet site.

Oral and practical skill test requirements
A Designated Mechanic Examiner gives these tests on a fee for services basis. A list of the DME is available at the local FSDO. The Oral and Practical tests cover all 43 technical and regulatory subject areas and combine oral questions with demonstration of technical skill. A test for a single rating (airframe or power plant) commonly requires eight hours to complete.

If a portion of the test is failed, he or she will have to wait 30 days to retest. However if the applicant presents a letter to the DME showing that the applicant has received additional instruction in the areas that he or she has failed a retest can be administered covering only the subject(s) failed in the original test.

When all tests are satisfactory completed within a 24 month period, the successful applicant receives a copy of FAA Form 8060-4, Temporary Airman Certificate, which is valid for 90 days or until the FAA Airmen Certification Branch in Oklahoma issues the mechanic a permanent certificate.

This small buff colored FAA mechanic's certificate is hard won, and an individual should be very proud to earn one, but if you are not very careful, it is just as easily lost.

About the Author

Bill O'Brien