Qualifying for the A&P: Aircraft Mechanic Training
What knowledge and experience must you demonstrate before taking the test for your A&P license, and where do you get it?
To become a licensed airframe and/or powerplant mechanic, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that you pass oral, written, and practical tests that cover 43 technical subjects.
Preparation for the written (computer) exam is not difficult, but can be time consuming, depending on how fast you can read. There are separate written tests to become an airframe or powerplant mechanic, or you can take a general test that covers both subject areas. There are study guides available, or if you choose an aviation mechanics technical school, the school will teach what you need to know. The FAA publishes samples of Airmen Knowledge Test Questions for Airframe and Powerplant Aviation Mechanics.
Qualifying to Take The Test
Before you can even take the test, you must first present evidence that you are qualified to take the test. There are 3 ways to get the experience required in order to take the FAA-required test:
Maintenance Technician School
The most common method is to attend a Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School. FAR Part 147 aircraft mechanic schools will train students in all the necessary subject areas to pass either an airframe maintenance technician or a powerplant maintenance technician, or the combined A and P aviation maintenance technician test. During one to two years of classroom and hands-on practical training, students will log the required practical experience time to qualify for the tests for licensing. Aircraft mechanic schools also offer technical training on aircraft electronics and certification as an avionics technician.
Aircraft mechanic's hand tools are included in the aircraft mechanics school tuition in many cases, and the school provides the power tools and equipment with which students will practice their skills. Following a lesson plan, instructors will demonstrate proper and efficient aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul techniques. The time spent in the maintenance training hangar or in labs counts toward the minimum experience requirements to take the test for licensing. Students can meet all the knowledge and experience requirements with one to two years of training in a Part 147 certified aviation maintenance school. Tuition costs and other expenses will add up to $20,000 to $30,000 by the time you are ready for testing, so you want a school with a high percentage of graduates placed in good jobs. There are tuition assistance scholarships and financing plans available at most schools.
Another way to meet the minimum experience requirements to get an aircraft mechanic's license is to work under the supervision of a certified mechanic. This is the "hangar rat" approach, and might begin with washing airplanes and sweeping hangar floors at an FAA Repair Station or FBO. If a skilled and experienced mechanic takes a real interest in training you, the quality of instruction you receive can be outstanding. FAA regulations say that you must log 18 months of supervised work to qualify to take the airframe or powerplant licensing tests, or 30 months to take the combined A&P test. The work time must be documented and signed off by the supervising mechanic or a notarized statement from your employer. After accumulating the required work experience and passing the written tests, you can take the oral/practical test to become a certificated Aviation Maintenance Technician with an Airframe and/or Powerplant rating.
The last option to meet the minimum experience requirements to become an aircraft mechanic is to serve in the military. Military service time in certain armed forces specialties, but not the training time prior to such service, can qualify a person to take the FAA airframe and/or powerplant mechanic test. Here is the list of accepted military specialty codes. Updates to the list can be obtained from your local FAA Flight Standards District Office FSDO.
Applicants for testing must show when and where they served in each specialty, and the types of aircraft and engines serviced.
Note: With both types of on-the-job training, you should spend time studying to prepare for the written, oral, and practical tests. The FAA will recognize and credit your practical experience only after a review of your paperwork and an interview with an FAA Airworthiness Inspector.
Most aircraft mechanics obtain their training at of the 170 schools certified by the FAA. About one-third of these schools award 2-year and 4-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management. But any of the three methods of getting the required experience working on aircraft will qualify you for testing to get your aircraft mechanic license. With the broad array of electronic communication and navigation equipment installed on modern aircraft, you may want to pursue additional training in avionics. Job opportunities may be better for licensed aircraft mechanics who can also diagnose and repair aircraft electronics.