Aircraft Engine Mechanic Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an aircraft mechanic? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an aircraft mechanic is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Aircraft Mechanic Career

If you enjoy fixing things, working with your hands and developing an important trade, then you might want to consider becoming an aircraft mechanic. Here are some pros and cons associated with becoming an aircraft mechanic to help you decide if this is the career for you.

PROS of Being a Aircraft Mechanic
Above-average median hourly wage (around $27.00 an hour in 2014)*
Advancement opportunities*
Opportunity to provide an important service to commuters*
Good job prospects for certified technicians*

CONS of Being a Aircraft Mechanic
Working in all weather conditions*
Working in a noisy and uncomfortable environment*
Higher than average rate of occupational injury*
Working under pressure*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Aircraft mechanics maintain, repair and replace the mechanical and electronic components of aircraft. Much of their work centers on conducting preventative maintenance by inspecting engines, instruments and accessories, such as pumps, air-conditioning systems, valves and landing gears. Mechanics are expected to conduct aircraft inspections and keep records of their maintenance operations. Mechanics also must carefully inspect aircraft engines, checking for worn parts, defective components and small cracks. Some mechanics repair the surfaces of aircraft and inspect the wings, tail and fuselage for any signs of corrosion or defect.

Mechanics might also specialize in a particular type of service, such as repair work, or specialize in specific sections of aircraft, such as engines, electrical systems or hydraulics. Some mechanics develop a broad base of skills that enable them to work on many different kinds of aircraft, including jets and helicopters. Powerplant mechanics are qualified to work on engines and can perform limited work on propellers. Airframe mechanics have the qualifications to work on any part of the aircraft except for instruments, propellers and power plants. Some mechanics, called airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanics work on all parts of the plane, except for instruments; many mechanics who work on civilian aircraft are A&P mechanics.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is expected to increase by two percent between 2012-2022, which is slower than average for all occupations. Job opportunities are especially favorable for mechanics who have acquired an A&P certification. As of May 2014, the median hourly wage of aircraft mechanics was over $27.00, with the highest ten percent earning more than $41.00 and the lowest ten percent earning less than $17.00 (www.bls.gov).

Education and Training Requirements

While there are no mandatory educational prerequisites, very few mechanics learn their basic skills through on-the-job training; most mechanics learn skills through programs certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and offered by technical schools and community colleges. Certified mechanic schools must offer students a minimum of 1,900 hours of classroom learning in order to comply with FAA guidelines. Coursework lasts up to 24 months and trains aspiring mechanics how to use the equipment and tools involved in daily maintenance and repair operations.

Trade schools place a lot of emphasis on the technologies used in new aircraft, such as composite materials, turbine engines and aviation electronics. New advances in technology make a working knowledge of computers and electronics an especially important part of a mechanic's training. It also might be helpful for mechanics to take basic courses in mathematics, electronics and mechanical drawing. Mechanics must be able to write, read and understand English in order to make reports and communicate effectively with pilots and other repair personnel. The following list summarizes a few general skills needed by aircraft mechanics:

  • A comprehensive knowledge of aircraft systems
  • The ability to solve complex mechanical problems
  • A strong work ethic that includes attention to detail
  • A sound knowledge of various tools and their functions
  • The ability to work in all weather conditions
  • The ability to work accurately and meticulously under pressure

Licensure Requirements

The FAA requires that all maintenance operations on aircraft are performed by certified mechanics or under the close supervision of a certified mechanic. Because of this, most airlines prefer to hire mechanics that have earned FAA certification. The FAA offers separate certifications for airframe and powerplant mechanics as well as a combined A&P certificate. Prior to applying for certification, mechanics must have at least 18 months of work experience for either the airframe or powerplant certification and 30 months of experience working with both airframes and engines for the combined A&P certificate. These work experience requirements can be substituted by completing an FAA-certified school program. After earning certification, workers who do not have a minimum 1,000 hours of work experience within the previous span of 24 months must take a refresher course. Workers must also receive a minimum of 16 hours of training every 24 months in order to keep their certificates current.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers highly value previous work experience and typically seek mechanics who understand how to service and repair a variety of mechanical and electrical aircraft components. Most employers require or prefer candidates to have A&P certifications. Some jobs might require that mechanics have work experience on specific aircraft and could require workers to travel to foreign locations. The following four job postings were open in March 2012:

  • A aerospace company in North Carolina was seeking a full-time aircraft structural repair mechanic. This job required a high school diploma, an FAA-issued A&P license and at least three years of work experience. Job duties included troubleshooting problems in aircraft engines, structures, flight surfaces, landing gears and controls, as well as repairing and replacing a number of parts, such as wings and the fuselage.
  • A company in California that supports the U.S. Department of Defense was looking for an aircraft mechanic. This job required a high school diploma, three years of recent experience or five years of on-the-job training experience on AS350 and EC120 aircraft. Applicants were also required to hold an A&P certification from the FAA. Job duties included performing aircraft maintenance, repairing engines and conducting inspections.
  • A corporation in Virginia was seeking mechanics with at least four years of experience for full-time employment. This job also required that candidates pass a Class 3 FAA flight physical and be able to travel to both domestic and foreign areas. Job duties included engine maintenance, aircraft repair, inspections and other services. This job prefers, but does not require, an A&P certification from the FAA.
  • A company in New York was seeking an aircraft mechanic. This job required three years of experience or five years of on-the-job training in addition to an A&P certification from the FAA. Job duties included performing daily flight inspections and maintenance operations as well as servicing aircraft with fuel and oil in preparation for flight.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Mechanics who hold A&P certifications are highly valued by employers, and it might be in your best interest to attend an FAA-certified school that specifically prepares you for this certification. While many mechanics attend diploma or certificate programs, mechanics who hold associate's or bachelor's degrees are uncommon and may stand out as job applicants. Graduates of these programs enter the field with a more comprehensive understanding of aircraft and are equipped to pass FAA certification examinations.

Alternative Career Paths

Automotive Mechanic

If you do not like the idea of working in bad weather, you might want to become an automotive mechanic; many of the skills and talents needed to become an aircraft mechanic translate to work on automobiles. An automotive mechanic repairs automobiles in dealerships and repair shops and typically can find full-time work. The BLS reported that in May 2011 the median hourly wage of automotive technicians was just over $17.00. While job prospects are good for individuals with formal training, employment is expected to grow by about 17% between 2010 and 2020.

Electrician

If you are primarily interested in electrical systems and electronic components, you might want to pursue a career as an electrician. Electricians install and maintain electrical power systems for businesses, factories and homes. While some electricians specialize in construction or maintenance, some choose to develop both specializations. Many electricians learn relevant skills through apprenticeship programs that typically last four years. Electricians are also required to be licensed. As electricians gain experience and additional skills, they can advance to more senior positions. The BLS reported that the median hourly wage for electricians was almost $24.00 in May 2011, and employment growth for electricians was expected to be above average, increasing by 23% between 2010 and 2020.

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