Aeronautical Maintenance Technologist Careers: Salary & Job Description

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An aeronautical maintenance technologist's median annual salary is around $57,000, but is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an aeronautical maintenance technologist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Aeronautical Maintenance Technologist Career

Aeronautical maintenance technologists, also known as aircraft mechanics, aircraft service technicians and avionics technicians, are responsible for ensuring the safety and proper operating condition of an aircraft's components. Read the following list of pros and cons to see if this career is right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Aeronautical Maintenance Technologist
Good pay (median salary of around $57,000 as of May 2014)*
Training can be completed on the job**
Variety of daily work tasks and challenges (including inspection, repair, assembly and installation of components)*
Opportunities to advance to shop supervisor or lead mechanic positions with experience**

Cons of Becoming an Aeronautical Maintenance Technologist
Slower-than-average job growth (2% from 2012-2022)*
Outsourcing is expected to contribute to strong competition for new jobs*
Job is physically demanding and could involve hazardous working conditions*
Working under deadlines can be stressful*
Irregular work hours are common*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ISEEK.

Career Information

Job Description

Aeronautical maintenance technologists perform routine maintenance, repairs and safety checks on aircraft, including jets and helicopters. If you take a job in this field, you could work in an airport hanger, airfield or repair station. You might also work irregular hours, including nights and weekends. Additionally, job duties could require you to work under time constraints to keep flights on schedule or to avoid inconveniencing customers. Your most imperative function, however, is to ensure the safety of the aircraft for which you are responsible.

Career Specializations

There are various job titles and areas of specialization available to aeronautical maintenance technologists. For example, you might work as an aircraft mechanic or service technician who repairs an aircraft's frame, replaces worn out rigging or rebuilds fuel systems. Avionics technicians, on the other hand, diagnose and repair an aircraft's radio, navigation and instrumentation systems.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), avionics technicians could see an employment increase of 3% from 2012 to 2022, while job opportunities for aircraft mechanics and service technicians were projected to increase 2% over the same period. The increase in air travel was expected to add about 3,500 new jobs to the economy; however, this growth could be tempered by outsourcing. Additionally, increased specialization will help enhance resource efficiency for maintenance facilities and subsequently reduce demand for technicians.

As of May 2014, the median annual salary for avionics technicians and aircraft mechanics and service technicians was almost $57,000, according to the BLS. The top 10% of avionics technicians earned more than $85,000 annually, while the same category of aircraft mechanics and service technicians made upwards of $87,000.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training

In some cases, you can learn this trade by completing around two years of on-the-job training. However, many aeronautical maintenance technologists complete a school's aviation maintenance technology or avionics program. Though not necessarily required for employment, schools award 1-year certificates or 2-year associate degrees. Bachelor's degree programs are also available.

If you want to maintain and repair communications equipment as an avionics technician, look for training opportunities or educational programs that can prepare you to pass the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) radio-telephone operator licensing exam.

Top Skills and Abilities

Aspiring aeronautical maintenance technologists should develop the troubleshooting skills necessary to diagnose mechanical problems. You'll also need the mechanical aptitude to make any repairs, not to mention the physical stamina to lift heavy components and climb scaffolds. You might also want to look for opportunities to use inventory management or facilities software. If you're interested in working with electrical systems, you'll need blueprint reading skills and a familiarity with such tools as voltmeters and oscilloscopes.

What Employers Are Looking For

One of the most common requirements listed by employers was related experience. Additionally, jobs that involve working with military aircraft could require the acquisition of a security clearance. For more details, check out some March 2012 job posts for aeronautical maintenance technologists:

  • A repair company in the Denver, Colorado, aviation industry sought an avionics technician who could work with military and corporate aircraft. Applicants would need a security clearance and three years of experience in avionics.
  • A New Jersey repair station in the defense industry was looking for an avionics technician who possessed personal computer skills and a familiarity with test equipment. Applicants with related experience or formal training and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification were preferred.
  • A Virginia-based corporation advertised for a helicopter maintenance technician who could perform safety inspections and maintenance on military aircraft. Five years of aviation maintenance experience and a security clearance were required.
  • A defense contractor in Kentucky was seeking an aircraft mechanic to diagnose and repair airframes, engines and other components. The position called for aviation sheet metal experience and a security clearance.

How Can I Stand Out?

Earn Certification

According to recent job posts, employers might prefer to hire applicants who've earned the airframe certification, powerplant certification or the combined A&P certification from the FAA. These credentials allow aircraft mechanics and service technicians to work on particular aircraft components, such as frames or propulsion systems, without direct supervision.

To qualify, you'll need to pass written, oral and practical exams after working under the supervision of an FAA-certified mechanic for 18 months (or 30 months for the A&P credential). You can also qualify if you've completed a formal training program at one of 170 FAA-approved institutions.

Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

The BLS explains that employers might prefer applicants with a bachelor's degree. This is especially true of mechanics who're looking to advance to supervisory positions. Programs are usually available as aviation maintenance or aviation maintenance management degrees. Be advised that applicants to some programs will need A&P certification. However, other schools prepare you to earn these credentials during the program's first two years. While enrolled, look for classes that can help you understand the fundamentals of how aircraft work. These include subjects in physics, mathematics, computer science and electronics. Writing classes could also be advantageous.

Join a Professional Organization

Joining a professional organization, such as the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association, could be another way to get an edge over other job applicants. Benefits of membership include access to networking opportunities and training resources that could help you stay aware of technology updates in the field. Aircraft are becoming more technologically advanced, and the BLS mentions that keeping up with these developments is imperative in this occupation.

Alternative Career Paths

Automotive Service Technician

If you're looking for a field with less job hazards and a more favorable employment outlook, consider training to become an automotive service technician instead. Employers might prefer candidates who hold an automotive technology associate degree or certificate, though you can still qualify for most jobs with only a high school diploma. Moreover, a 17% job growth was projected for this field through the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS. Automotive service technicians and mechanics earned a median salary of approximately $36,000 as of May 2011.

Electrician

Employment opportunities for electricians were also projected to grow faster than those for aeronautical maintenance technologists at a rate of 23% over the reporting decade. You'll still get to work with electrical systems and wiring in this occupation, but you'll need to complete a 4-year apprenticeship program and meet state licensing requirements before you can work independently. The earnings for electricians are comparable to those of aeronautical maintenance technologists. They earned a median annual salary of over $49,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.

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