An Aircraft Mechanic Career: Pros and Cons
Aircraft mechanics help ensure that airplanes and other machines are safe and working properly by performing routine maintenance and repairs. Read on to discover the pros and cons of becoming an aircraft mechanic and see if it's the right job for you.
|Pros of Becoming an Aircraft Mechanic|
|Diverse advancement opportunities (FAA inspector, shop supervisor, owner of a maintenance facility)*|
|Wide-range of employers need aircraft mechanics (airlines, FAA stations, manufacturing firms)*|
|Variety of components to work on (engines, landing gear, communication instruments)**|
|On-the-job training can be sufficient***|
|Cons of Becoming an Aircraft Mechanic|
|Higher-than-average rate of injury and illness*|
|Noise from machinery can cause hearing damage*|
|Must work within strict time constraints*|
|Work can be physically demanding (involving heavy lifting, stretching, crawling, etc.)*|
|Strong competition expected for job openings*|
Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. **O*NET Online. ***Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
Aircraft mechanics are generally divided into three types: maintenance, repair and avionics. As an aircraft mechanic, you'll perform preventative work and maintenance on various aircraft systems. You could be responsible for inspecting aircraft and keeping detailed records of inspections, as well as collecting diagnostic information from mechanical recording devices. Common duties include replacing all worn and defective mechanical parts and testing newly-installed equipment. Aircraft mechanics may be responsible for working on one type of aircraft, such as helicopters, or an entire fleet of aircraft. Avionics mechanics focus on the electronic and computer systems on an aircraft.
Aircraft mechanics often have to work quickly to allow flights to be on time, while being careful to maintain safety standards. You'll frequently have to lift or pull heavy objects and need to bend, crawl and twist into awkward positions in order to perform repairs. Although you can wear ear protection, you're usually going to be around machinery and noisy engines that can take a toll on your hearing in the long run. It's worth knowing that full-time aircraft mechanics experience a higher-than-average rate of injury and illness, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You'll likely work 40 hours per week, but shifts could be anytime during the day or night, and overtime or weekend work is common.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians was predicted to grow two percent between 2012 and 2022, which was slower than the average for all occupations during this period. Although the airline industry was expected to see growth, maintenance jobs are being outsourced, which could limit employment opportunities. Most job openings will arise from mechanics retiring or switching professions. When looking for a job, you'll probably face tough competition at major airlines, where pay is generally better and there are more opportunities to travel. You might have better luck snagging a job at a smaller airline or a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) repair station, especially in a rural area.
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians earned an average salary of about $56,990 in 2014, according to the BLS. The top-paying states for aircraft mechanics were Kentucky, New Jersey, and Colorado. Semi conductor/other electronic component manufacturing and courier and express delivery services were two of the highest paying industries for aircraft mechanics.
Education and Training Requirements
You're required to be certified by the FAA if you want to become an aircraft mechanic. To become certified by the FAA, you have the option of completing an approved training program or obtaining 30 months of experience working on aircraft. If you're interested in formal training, the FAA has a list of 170 approved schools for maintenance technicians. You could gain the necessary training from the armed forces, but you'll need to check if the FAA will give you credit for your chosen specialty while you're enlisted. Some schools might offer 2- or 4-year degrees in avionics or related topics.
To obtain an airframe, powerplant or combined A&P certification, you'll need to pass a series of oral, practical and written tests. Continued work experience and training will allow you to keep your certification valid. If you're an avionics mechanic who works on communications devices, you'll need to have a radio-telephone operator license from the Federal Communications Commission as well. All aircraft mechanics should have the following general skills:
- High level of mechanical ability
- Complex problem-solving
- Detailed and thorough work
- Physical agility
Job Postings from Real Employers
Employers commonly look for aircraft mechanics with A&P certification. Experience in certain areas, such as sheet metal, hardware and specific aircraft models could be a plus. You'll often need to communicate well with others and be able to read and interpret diagrams on your own. Check out these job postings from March 2012 to get an idea of what employers were looking for:
- An aerospace and defense company in Kentucky advertised for an aircraft structural mechanic to perform heavy repair work and modifications on aircraft. Candidates must have experience in sheet metal and hardware installation, and they may need to be licensed by the FAA.
- An aviation staffing firm looked for an A&P-licensed aircraft mechanic for a position in New York. Applicants should have 3-5 years of experience working with Airbus or Boeing 767 aircraft. This is a contractor position with a base pay of $28 per hour. The mechanic should have a felony-free criminal record and be able to provide his or her own tools.
- An aerospace staffing company sought aircraft assembly technicians for work in Arizona. The posting specifies that work can include traveling off-site to customer locations around the world. Technicians need to be A&P-licensed mechanics with 3-5 years of experience. Ideal candidates should have previous work with electrical systems or sheet metal repair.
- An aviation product manufacturing firm in Atlanta looked for an A&P mechanic with 6 years of experience and the ability to read and interpret aircraft wiring schemas. Mechanics will rely on pilots' descriptions to identify and fix equipment problems. This mechanic may have to work on propeller-driven and jet-propulsion aircraft.
How to Get an Edge
Obtaining formal training from an FAA-approved school is usually the best way to prepare for a career as an aircraft mechanic. Courses in math, computer science and mechanical drawing can make you look favorable to employers. Coursework in writing can also be helpful, since you'll need to write reports and communicate detailed written information to other workers. Although you could obtain an airframe or a powerplant certification, you'll probably be best off getting the combined A&P certification, since this is the certification most commonly required by employers.
You'll have the best opportunities for advancement if you can get an aircraft inspector's authorization. This is possible after holding an A&P certificate for 3 years and completing at least 2 years of hands-on work experience. Skills and training in management can also give you a better chance for advancement.
Alternate Career Choices
If you like the idea of becoming a mechanic but you'd rather work on something smaller than aircraft, an automotive mechanic career could be right for you. Although formal training is preferred, it is not necessary to become an automotive mechanic. You have your pick of work to specialize in; some examples include diesel mechanics, heavy vehicle repairers and small engine mechanics. The BLS found that car mechanics earned an average income of roughly $39,000 in 2011. Job growth should be decent for car mechanics; the BLS predicted that these professionals would see a 17% increase in jobs from 2010-2020. The BLS projected that diesel mechanics would experience a 15% increase in job openings between 2010 and 2020. Diesel Mechanics earned an average salary of about $43,000 in 2011.
If you know you've got a mechanical mind but you're not hooked on working with vehicles or airplanes, consider a career as an electrician. You'll be responsible for installing and maintaining electrical and power systems. You should know that there's a higher-than-average rate of injury and illness associated with being an electrician. This occupation may involve traveling long distances and working outside in bad weather. You're usually able to learn the necessary skills from an apprenticeship. Electricians earned an average salary of approximately $53,000 in 2011. The BLS expected electricians to see job growth of 23% from 2010-2020, which was faster than the average of all occupations. Although job prospects are good, you should be aware that most states require you to become licensed. Each state has different requirements, so it can be helpful to check out what those requirements are before you attempt to become an electrician.