Aircraft Maintenance Technician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an aircraft maintenance technician career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an aircraft maintenance technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Aircraft Maintenance Technician

Aircraft maintenance technicians (AMT) make commercial, government and private airplanes and helicopters safe for their crew and passengers by performing repairs and scheduled maintenance. Here are some of the pros and cons of working as an AMT to help you decide if this career choice is right for you.

Pros of an Aircraft Maintenance Technician Career
Opportunity to help people by keeping aircraft safe**
Median wage higher than U.S. average ($57,000 in 2014 for all aircraft mechanic and service technicians)*
Expertise in working with high-tech equipment*
Opportunities for job advancement, based on experience*

Cons
May need to work overtime, evening and night shifts*
May have to work outdoors, exposed to weather*
Potential for stress due to meeting tight deadlines, and maintaining strict safety standards*
Risk of on-the-job injury higher than average*
Little to no job growth (expected increase of only 2% from 2012-2022 for all aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aircraft maintenance technicians are listed as aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians. Persons in these careers perform scheduled maintenance, repairs and inspections of helicopters and airplanes. Examples of a mechanic's duties include replacing or repairing parts of the aircraft, examining an aircraft's frame for weaknesses or defects and measuring parts of the airplane or helicopter for wear. Technicians use diagnostic equipment, such as oscilloscopes and voltmeters, to test parts of the aircraft. They might install or build aircraft parts, such as instrument panes and electrical systems. They also use information from flight tests to diagnose any malfunctions. Technicians and mechanics keep written records of all the repairs and maintenance tasks they perform.

Job Prospects and Salary

Although air travel is expected to increase somewhat in coming years, job growth for aircraft maintenance personnel is expected to grow only about 2% between 2012 and 2022. Competition is expected to remain high due to jobs being sent overseas. According to the BLS, AMTs with bachelor's degrees in aircraft maintenance as well as airframe and power plant certification are likely to have more job opportunities. The median salary for an AMT was $57,000 per year in 2014.

Career Paths and Specializations

While some AMTs work on all different types of aircraft, it is possible to specialize in one type of airplane or helicopter, or even one particular part of an aircraft, such as its engine. In general, maintenance mechanics work mostly in inspection and preventive maintenance, and repair mechanics fix problems as they come up (such as a broken indicator gauge) by replacing or repairing broken parts. Avionic technicians take care of radio communications, flight instruments, radar and electronics.

Education and Training Requirements

Education Requirements

Although there are not specific training or education requirements for becoming an AMT, cccording to the BLS, many AMTs attend Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Courses can last 18 to 24 months, but several schools offer both two- and four-year degrees. Most schools require you to have a GED or high school diploma to apply.

Certification

The FAA requires that maintenance personnel have earned certification in power plant (engine), airframe or both in order to work without supervision. In order to be certified, you should be at least 18 years old and able to read, write and speak English fluently (English requirement may be waived for persons not working in the U.S.). You need at least 30 months of work experience or completion of an FAA- approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School program. You'll also have to pass both an oral/practical exam and a written exam. All tests must be passed within two years, and there is a fee to take these exams. There isn't a separate certificate in avionics, but you still need to have the proper tools and training. Many avionics personnel obtain their skills working for an avionics manufacturer or in the military.

Once certified, the FAA requires you take a continuing education course every 24 months and an inspection or repair course every 90 days in order to maintain your status. The FAA offers online resources as well as awards programs to help AMTs keep up their knowledge and skills.

Skills

Since AMTs often have to climb up into aircraft engine compartments to do much of their work, they should be both agile and manually dexterous. You should also be very detail-oriented, since maintenance and troubleshooting requires accounting for very precise specifications.

Job Postings from Real Employers

  • A charter aircraft company in Oregon is hiring an Airframe and Power plant (A&P) certified mechanic. Duties include maintaining records as well as performing repairs and maintenance. Candidates will need two to five years of experience working with corporate aircraft, the ability to work overtime and a negative drug screening test.
  • An aviation technical support company has an opening for an avionics technician in Alabama. You'll need four years experience working on commercial airplanes, such as Boeing and Airbus.
  • A helicopter company that serves the tourist industry in Hawaii is looking for an FAA licensed A&P mechanic. The successful candidate will be able to work with a team, have computer skills and be available to work on call. Duties include providing high-quality maintenance and keeping the helicopters looking in good condition as well as and taking care of the ground support equipment. Five years of aviation maintenance and three years of commercial helicopter experience is required.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Continuing Education

Increasing your education and experience is the best way to stand out and advance in an aircraft maintenance career. If you achieved certification through experience, the BLS suggests getting a bachelor's degree in aviation maintenance technology or getting business and management training, which can help you open your own maintenance facility.

Develop Related Skills

Obtaining certification as an inspector is a way, along with experience, to stand out. After three years of having both power plant and airframe certification and two years of actively working on aircraft, you can qualify to earn authorization as an inspector. According to the FAA, additional requirements include having a specific place where you can be reached during the workday, passing a written test and having access to equipment, inspection data and facilities to do inspections. Having an inspection certificate can also increase you chances of becoming a lead mechanic, a lead inspector or a shop supervisor.

Alternative Career Paths

Aircraft Repairman

If you want to work on aircraft but do not want to put in the time and expense to get certified, you might be able to qualify for a repairman's certificate. Repairman must be at least 18; able to read, write and understand English (if working in the U.S.); and work for a certified mechanic. You must have a specific skill and acceptable formal training or 18 months experience in that particular task. You employer must also recommend you for a certificate. You can only work when supervised and cannot clear an airplane or helicopter for return to service. While most other aspects are similar to having A&P certification, advancement in aviation mechanics is less likely for persons holding a repairman certificate.

Electrical Repairer or Installer

If you like repair and installation but don't want to work in aviation, becoming an electrical and electronics installer or repairer might be to your liking. You would work with a variety of electrical equipment and would have a choice of industries to work for, such as utilities, transportation or telecommunications. Most persons in this field train at a technical college, but an associate degree or certification will probably increase your job opportunities. Median yearly wages for electrical installers and repairers was about $50,000 in 2011. Only 3% growth in this field is expected between 2010 and 2020, but it can vary according to the specific industry.

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