Aircraft mechanics and avionic technicians must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Most mechanics learn their trade at an FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School.
Most mechanics and technicians learn their trade at an FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Coursework normally lasts 18 to 24 months and provides training with the tools and equipment used on the job.
About one-third of these schools award 2- or 4-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management. Increasingly, employers are looking more favorably on those with a bachelor’s degree.
Aircraft trade schools are placing more emphasis on technologies being used in new airplanes, such as turbine engines, composite materials, and aviation electronics. These technical advances require mechanics to have stronger backgrounds in composite materials and electronics.
Courses in mathematics, physics, chemical engineering, electronics, computer science, and mechanical drawing are helpful because they teach the principles involved in operating an airplane. Mechanics often need this knowledge to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.
Courses that develop writing, communication, and management skills are important for mechanics who want to move into senior positions.
The FAA requires that aircraft maintenance be done by certified mechanics or under the supervision of a supervised mechanic. The FAA offers separate certifications for airframe mechanics and engine mechanics, but most airlines prefer to hire mechanics with a combined Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate.
To qualify, mechanics must be at least 18 years of age, be fluent in English, and have 30 months of experience working on airframes and engines. However, completion of a program at an FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School can substitute for the experience requirement.
In addition to having experience or formal training, applicants must pass written, oral, and practical exams that demonstrate required skills. Candidates take the written tests on a computer at one of many designated testing facilities around the world. An FAA Designated Mechanic Examiner gives the oral and practical tests. To get the certification, candidates must pass all the tests within two years.
To keep their certification, mechanics must by do an inspection or repair every 90 days and attend a refresher course every 24 months. To fulfill this requirement, mechanics often take classes from their employer or an airplane manufacturer.
The FAA allows certified airframe mechanics to work on avionics equipment. Although there is no avionic-specific certification, avionic technicians must have the required training and tools. Many avionics technicians gain the necessary experience from military training, from a technical school, or by working for an avionics manufacturer. Avionics technicians who work on communications equipment must have a restricted radio-telephone operator license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
As aircraft mechanics gain experience, they may advance to lead mechanic, lead inspector, or shop supervisor. Opportunities are best for those who have an aircraft inspector's authorization. To get an inspector's authorization, a mechanic must have held an A&P certificate for at least 3 years, with 24 months of hands-on experience.
In addition, as a bachelor’s degree has become increasingly important for career advancement, some mechanics continue their education.
Mechanics with broad experience in maintenance and repair might become inspectors with the FAA.
With additional business and management training, some may open their own maintenance facility.
Traditionally, mechanics have advanced from general aviation jobs to airline jobs. Because salaries are similar between general aviation and airline companies, however, mechanics also should consider the work environment as they search for jobs. Although airline jobs come with standby travel perks, these mechanics often have to work outside, whereas mechanics at corporations or repair shops often work in climate-controlled buildings.
Agility. Mechanics should be able to climb on airplanes, balance, and reach with no fear of heights.
Detail oriented. Mechanics should be able to adjust airplane parts to exact specifications. For example, mechanics often use precision tools to tighten wheel bolts to an exact tension.
Manual dexterity. Mechanics should be able to precisely coordinate the movement of their fingers and hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble parts.
Technical skills. Mechanics should be able to interpret engine noises, gauges, dials, and other technical instruments to determine whether a plane’s mechanical systems are working properly.
Troubleshooting skills. Mechanics should be able to diagnose complex problems and evaluate options to correct those problems.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition