Mechanics and service technicians
Aviation maintenance departments comprise
several different specialists, including airframe
mechanics, powerplant technicians, instrument repairmen,
and avionics technicians. As a team, these workers keep
aircraft operating safely and efficiently.
Duties. Many mechanics
specialize in preventive maintenance. They inspect
aircraft engines, landing gear, instruments, pressurized
sections, brakes, valves, pumps, air-conditioning systems,
and other parts of the aircraft. They fix or replace any
broken or worn parts that they find. When working on
large, sophisticated planes, mechanics download diagnostic
information from electronic boxes and consoles that
monitor the aircraft’s basic operations.
Mechanics and technicians conduct
inspections, following a schedule that is based on the
number of hours the aircraft has flown, calendar days
since the last inspection, cycles of operation, or a
combination of these factors.
Just like all mechanics, aircraft
mechanics use wrenches, welding torches, digital
calibration and diagnostic equipment, and other tools. But
because planes are big, the work of an aircraft mechanic
poses unique challenges. Mechanics examine engines through
specially designed openings while standing on ladders or
scaffolds or by using hoists or lifts to remove the entire
engine from the craft.
Sometimes, mechanics need to take an engine apart. They
use precision instruments to measure each part for wear
and use x-ray and magnetic inspection equipment to check
for tiny cracks. Mechanics also may repair sheet metal,
measure the tension of control cables, and check for
corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the plane’s
fuselage, wings, and tail.
Other mechanics find and fix problems that
pilots describe, rather than finding and fixing hidden
problems. For example, during a preflight check, a pilot
may discover that the aircraft’s fuel gauge does not
work. To solve the problem, mechanics might troubleshoot
the electrical system, using electrical test equipment to
make sure that no wires have broken or short-circuited,
and replace defective electrical or electronic components.
For minor repairs, these mechanics might work on the
runway while passengers wait for the plane to be repaired
and cleared for takeoff.
Some mechanics work on just one type of
aircraft, such as jets, propeller-driven airplanes, or
helicopters. Others specialize in one aircraft section,
such as the engine, hydraulics, or electrical system. Each
system requires different skills and certifications.
Airframe mechanics are authorized to work on any part of
the aircraft except the instruments, powerplants, and
propellers. Powerplant mechanics are authorized to work on
engines and do limited work on propellers. Combination
airframe-and-powerplant mechanics—called A&P
mechanics—work on all parts of the plane except the
Avionics technicians repair navigation and
radio communications equipment, weather radar systems, and
other onboard instruments and computers. These technicians
make complex electrical repairs.
Like most repair workers, aircraft and avionics
equipment mechanics and repairers enjoy the challenge of
examining and disassembling engines and other equipment to
look for problems, then repairing and reassembling them.
Whatever type of plane they service, most aircraft
mechanics work in large hangars close to airports. But if
the hangar is full or the plane is on the runway, that
means working outdoors at all times of the year—whether
it’s summer in Tucson, Arizona, or winter in Fargo,
Employment and earnings.
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service
technicians held about 133,570 jobs in May 2006, according
Median hourly wages of airline mechanics
and service technicians were $22.95 in May 2006, according
to BLS. For avionics technicians, BLS shows median hourly
wages in May 2006 of $22.57.
Qualifications and training.
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service
repairers must have good manual dexterity and
problem-solving skills. And they should be able to work
well under time constraints, sometimes tight ones.
Aircraft mechanics must have a high school
diploma or equivalent. Most have attended 1 of about 170
trade schools or community colleges certified by the FAA.
Many of these schools offer associate or bachelor’s
degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation
maintenance management. People seeking to become avionics
or instrument technicians usually need at least an
associate degree in electronics. Some mechanics learn on
the job after high school, but this method of training is
becoming less common.
In addition, aircraft mechanics almost
always need certification from the FAA, unless they are
working as apprentices or helpers under the supervision of
a certified mechanic. To be eligible for basic
certification, a mechanic must be a U.S. citizen able to
read, write, and speak English and must complete a program
at an FAA-certified mechanics school or have 18 months of
work experience under the supervision of a certified
mechanic. These mechanics must also pass oral, written,
and practical exams. To keep their certificates current,
mechanics need at least 16 hours of training every 24
months. This training is often offered on the job by
The FAA offers basic certification in
either airframe or powerplant mechanics. It also offers
the combined A&P certificate that allows for
certification in both. Today, most employers prefer that
their mechanics have this combination. To qualify,
mechanics must acquire at least 30 months of experience
working with both airframes and engines, or have less
experience and the completion of an FAA-certified mechanic
school program. A&P certified mechanics also must pass
written and oral tests and demonstrate that they can do
the work authorized by the certificate. To stay certified,
they need current work experience: specifically, at least
1,000 hours of relevant experience in the previous 24
months. Alternatively, they can take a refresher course.
Avionics technicians also need an FAA
mechanic’s certificate. Many gain avionics repair
experience in the military or from working for avionics
manufacturers. Additional voluntary certifications are
available from professional associations. Avionics
technicians who fix radios or radar must have a license
from the Federal Communications Commission.
Some mechanics begin with a more limited
repairman certificate. Repairman certificates are valid
for only one place of employment and for only one or two
specific job tasks, such as working on propellers or on
instruments. Mechanics who have repairman certificates
usually work for engine shops or airplane manufacturers
rather than airlines.
In addition to considering education and certification,
airlines value experience working on military aircraft.
But most people with military experience still need
additional training to meet FAA rules regarding civilian
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