Aviation Mechanics Employment
Becoming a certified A&P aviation mechanic involves a full course of study that requires the mechanic to absorb exhaustive amounts of technical knowledge. Written, oral, and practical exams are required, along with minimum levels of experience.
An experienced A&P Mechanic can earn as much as $30-$40/hour working for one of the major national employers, but newly certified aircraft mechanics generally start at a much lower pay level working at one of the smaller regional companies — perhaps starting at around $12-$15/hour (depending on regional variations, of course). Aircraft mechanic wages at the regional companies may top out at around $25/hour, at which point it becomes necessary to move on to a bigger company if the mechanic desires to earn more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median hourly earnings of aircraft mechanics and service technicians were about $21.77 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $17.82 and $27.18. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13.99, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33.84.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of aircraft mechanics and service technicians in May 2004 were:
|Scheduled air transportation
|Nonscheduled air transportation
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing
|Support activities for air transportation
Median hourly earnings of avionics technicians were about $21.30 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $18.12 and $25.12. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $14.63, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.85.
Mechanics who work on jets for the major airlines generally earn more than those working on other aircraft. Airline mechanics and their immediate families receive reduced-fare transportation on their own and most other airlines.
About 4 in 10 aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians are members of unions or covered by union agreements. The principal unions are the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the Transport Workers Union of America. Some mechanics are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Job opportunities in aviation mechanics are generally considered more readily available at small commuter and regional airlines, at FAA repair stations, and in general aviation.
Part 135 — Commuter Airlines
Many recently licensed aircraft mechanics quickly learn that regional commuter airlines may be the best sources for employment for those with limited experience.
With so many airlines cutting back on their in-house repair and maintenance, many aircraft mechanics are turning to FAA certified Repair Stations.
Most aircraft mechanics are required to provide their own tools — which will be tax deductible for those employed in the field.
Titles: Aircraft Maintenance Technician? A&P Mechanic?
The FAA prefers the term "aviation maintenance technician," on the grounds that it most accurately describes the skillset needed to maintain today's complex aircraft. But many mechanics working in the field carry titles such as A&P Mechanic, Aircraft Mechanic, Aircraft Technician, Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, or some other such title.
The specific job title is less important than the recognition of the individual's important role in maintaining and repairing planes and keeping them in airworthy condition.
Nature of the Work
Many aircraft mechanics, also called airframe mechanics, power plant mechanics, and avionics technicians, specialize in preventive maintenance. They inspect aircraft engines, landing gear, instruments, pressurized sections, accessories — brakes, valves, pumps, and air-conditioning systems, for example — and other parts of the aircraft, and do the necessary maintenance and replacement of parts. They also maintain records related to the maintenance performed on the aircraft. Mechanics and technicians conduct inspections following a schedule 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. In large, sophisticated planes equipped with aircraft monitoring systems, mechanics can gather valuable diagnostic information from electronic boxes and consoles that monitor the aircraft’s basic operations. In planes of all sorts, aircraft mechanics examine engines by working through specially designed openings while standing on ladders or scaffolds or by using hoists or lifts to remove the entire engine from the craft. After taking an engine apart, mechanics use precision instruments to measure parts for wear and use x-ray and magnetic inspection equipment to check for invisible cracks. They repair or replace worn or defective parts. Mechanics also may repair sheet metal or composite surfaces; measure the tension of control cables; and check for corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the fuselage, wings, and tail. After completing all repairs, they must test the equipment to ensure that it works properly.
Mechanics specializing in repair work rely on the pilot’s description of a problem to find and fix faulty equipment. For example, during a preflight check, a pilot may discover that the aircraft’s fuel gauge does not work. To solve the problem, mechanics may troubleshoot the electrical system, using electrical test equipment to make sure that no wires are broken or shorted out, and replace any defective electrical or electronic components. Mechanics work as fast as safety permits so that the aircraft can be put back into service quickly.
Some mechanics work on one or many different types of aircraft, such as jets, propeller-driven airplanes, and helicopters. Others specialize in one section of a particular type of aircraft, such as the engine, hydraulics, or electrical system.
Airframe mechanics are authorized to work on any part of the aircraft except the instruments, power plants, 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 instruments. Most mechanics working on civilian aircraft today are A&P mechanics. In small, independent repair shops, mechanics usually inspect and repair many different types of aircraft.
Avionics systems are now an integral part of aircraft design and have vastly increased aircraft capability. Avionics technicians repair and maintain components used for aircraft navigation and radio communications, weather radar systems, and other instruments and computers that control flight, engine, and other primary functions. These duties may require additional licenses, such as a radiotelephone license issued by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Because of the increasing use of technology, more time is spent repairing electronic systems, such as computerized controls. Technicians also may be required to analyze and develop solutions to complex electronic problems.
Aviation Mechanics Working Conditions
Aircraft mechanics usually work in hangars or in other indoor areas. When hangars are full or when repairs must be made quickly, they may work outdoors, sometimes in unpleasant weather. Mechanics often work under time pressure to maintain flight schedules or, in general aviation, to keep from inconveniencing customers. At the same time, mechanics have a tremendous responsibility to maintain safety standards, and this can cause the job to be stressful.
Frequently, mechanics must lift or pull objects weighing more than 70 pounds. They often stand, lie, or kneel in awkward positions and occasionally must work in precarious positions, such as on scaffolds or ladders. Noise and vibration are common when engines are being tested, so ear protection is necessary. Aircraft mechanics usually work 40 hours a week on 8-hour shifts around the clock. Overtime work is frequent.
Job Outloook for Aircraft Mechanics
Opportunities for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians should be excellent for who have completed aircraft mechanic training programs. Employment is expected to increase about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2014, and large numbers of additional job openings should arise from the need to replace experienced mechanics who retire.
Reduced passenger traffic — resulting from a weak economy and the events of September 11, 2001 — forced airlines to cut back flights and take aircraft out of service. However, over the next decade passenger traffic is expected to increase as the result of an expanding economy and a growing population, and the need for aircraft mechanics and service technicians will grow accordingly. Furthermore, if the number of graduates from aircraft mechanic training programs continues to fall short of employer needs, opportunities for graduates of mechanic training programs should be excellent.
Most job openings for aircraft mechanics through the year 2014 will stem from replacement needs. Many mechanics are expected to retire over the next decade and create several thousand job openings per year. In addition, others will leave to work in related fields, such as automobile repair, as their skills are largely transferable to other maintenance and repair occupations. Also contributing to favorable future job opportunities for mechanics is the long-term trend toward fewer students entering technical schools to learn skilled maintenance and repair trades. Many of the students who have the ability and aptitude to work on planes are choosing to go to college, work in computer-related fields, or go into other repair and maintenance occupations with better working conditions. If the trend continues, the supply of trained aviation mechanics will not be able to keep up with the needs of the air transportation industry.
Job opportunities are likely to be the best at small commuter and regional airlines, at FAA repair stations, and in general aviation. Commuter and regional airlines are the fastest growing segment of the air transportation industry, but wages in these companies tend to be lower than those in the major airlines, so they attract fewer job applicants. Also, some jobs in aviation mechanics will become available as experienced mechanics leave for higher paying jobs with the major airlines or transfer to another occupation. At the same time, general aviation aircraft are becoming increasingly sophisticated, boosting the demand for qualified mechanics. Mechanics will face more competition for jobs with large airlines because the high wages and travel benefits that these jobs offer generally attract more qualified applicants than there are openings. Also, there is an increasing trend for large airlines to outsource aircraft and avionics equipment mechanic jobs overseas; however, most airline companies prefer maintenance work done on aircraft be performed in the U.S. because of safety and regulation issues of overseas contractors.
In spite of these factors, job opportunities with the airlines are expected to be better than they have been in the past. But, in general, prospects will be best for applicants with experience. Mechanics who keep abreast of technological advances in electronics, composite materials, and other areas will be in greatest demand. Also, mechanics who are mobile and willing to relocate to smaller rural areas will have better job opportunities. The number of job openings for aircraft mechanics in the Federal Government should decline as the government increasingly contracts out service and repair functions to private repair companies.
Job opportunities for avionics technicians who are prepared to master the intricacies of the aircraft and work with A&P mechanics are expected to be good. Technicians who are cross-trained and able to work with complex aircraft systems should have the best job prospects. Additionally, technicians with licensing that enables them to work on the airplane, either removing or reinstalling equipment, are expected to be in especially high demand.
If all of this doesn't sound like the job for you, you might want to heed the advice of the Aircraft Mechanic Forum Administrator and check into rebuilding transmissions.