Aircraft Mechanics Overview
There are about 170 schools certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and this is where most aircraft mechanic candidates learn their jobs. Even though competition for jobs with major airlines, which provide the best benefits and pay, those who complete an aircraft mechanic training program should find job opportunities to be favorable. Growth will continue for aircraft mechanic jobs in general aviation, regional and commuter airlines and FAA repair stations.
Nature of the Work for Aircraft Mechanics
Airplanes are highly complex machines and they must operate safely. The role of an aircraft mechanic is essential to make repairs, perform scheduled maintenance and complete inspections required by the FAA.
Aircraft mechanics may specialize in different areas. Many focus on preventive maintenance, inspecting aircraft engines, instruments, landing gear and accessories—brakes, valves, pumps and air conditioning systems. They do necessary work and replace parts, keeping maintenance records up to date. Each aircraft mechanic must follow a schedule based on days since last inspection, hours flown and cycles of operation. Large, sophisticated planes often have monitoring systems that provide diagnostic information on basic operations. To examine engines, an aircraft mechanic must work through special openings while on ladders or scaffolds to remove the entire engine and then take it apart using special instruments to inspect it. So, they should not be afraid of heights. They also work on sheet metal and composite surfaces, they check for cracks and corrosion and test all equipment to make sure it works properly.
Another popular field for an aircraft mechanic is inspection. These workers find and fix problems as described by pilots, such as a faulty fuel gauge. An aircraft mechanic would need to troubleshoot the electrical system and replace and defective components. They must work as fast as possible, taking safety into account, to get planes moving again quickly.
Working on a variety of aircraft including helicopters, jots and propeller-driven airplanes is also common for an aircraft mechanic. Some specialize in a part of aircraft such as electrical systems or the engine, though in small repair shops they should be able to work on many different types.
An aircraft mechanic typically works in a repair station, hangar or on the airfield. They are often under a time pressure since flight schedules should be maintained, but they are also responsible for maintaining safety standards, and so the job can be very stressful.
On the job, an aircraft mechanic may need to lift or pull objects weighing upwards of 70 pounds. Awkward working positions -- kneeling, lying down or on scaffolds – are common. Ear protection is needed to protect from engine noise. A full-time aircraft mechanic experiences higher than average work-related injury and illness rate. Most work 40 hours a week, but shifts occur around the clock, including weekends. Overtime is frequent.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Aircraft Mechanics
The FAA requires every aircraft mechanic to be at least 18 years old, fluent in English and a high school graduate, or equivalent, along with possessing the appropriate technical skills.
A few people start aircraft mechanic jobs with no training, but most attend one of the 170 Aviation Maintenance Technician schools certified by the FAA. Certificate programs include 1,900 class-hours, which usually takes 1 to 2 years. Some of these schools award 2 and 4-year degrees in aviation maintenance management, aviation technology and avionics.
Aircraft mechanic students will take classes in physics, chemistry, computer science, electronics, mathematics and mechanical drawing. They often must take writing courses, too, as they will need to submit maintenance reports. More schools are now placing an emphasis on new technologies including aviation electronics, composite materials and turbine engines.
Some aircraft mechanic entry-level workers receive training from experienced mechanics on the job, which must be supervised and documented until they have FAA certificates.
The FAA requires that all maintenance work is performed by a certified aircraft mechanic or under the supervision of one, so most airlines prefer FAA certified aircraft mechanics holding both an airframe mechanic and power plant mechanic certificate. Before they can apply, they must work for 18 to 30 months, or complete an FAA-certified school program. They must also pass aircraft mechanic exams. To keep certificates valid, they must have current work experience and training courses.
A high degree of mechanical aptitude, along with the ability to diagnose and solve complex mechanical problems is key for an aircraft mechanic. Aircraft mechanic jobs are also highly technical, so they should keep skills up to date on new technology and aircraft technology advancements.
Some Armed Forces aircraft mechanics acquire enough experience to earn the FAA certificate, but often their experiences are too specialized. So, they usually need to complete an FAA training program anyway. Even so, military training can be an advantage in the job hunt.
With experience, an aircraft mechanic can go on to become a lead mechanic, crew chief, inspector, shop supervisor or lead inspector. The best advancement opportunities go to those with an aircraft inspector’s authorization.
When working for airlines, an aircraft mechanic may advance to an executive position or become an inspector with the FAA. Additional business and management training could lead to running an aircraft maintenance facility. With a pilot license, they may become a flight engineer or airline pilot. With continued education they could become aviation engineers, communication engineers, repair consultants or electrical engineers.
Most Popular Aircraft Maintenance Schools
1. Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, Tulsa (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
2. Redstone College, Denver (Broomfield, Colorado)
3. Wichita Area Technical College (Wichita, Kansas)
4. Enterprise - Ozark Community College (Enterprise, Alabama)
5. National Aviation Academy, Tampa Bay (Clearwater, Florida)
6. Eastern New Mexico University, Roswell (Roswell, New Mexico)
7. Aviation Institute of Maintenance, Atlanta (Lawrenceville, Georgia)
8. Middle Georgia State University School of Aviation (Eastman, Georgia)
9. Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology (East Elmhurst, New York)
10. San Diego Miramar College (San Diego, California)
See All Aircraft Maintenance Schools
Employment and Job Outlook for Aircraft Mechanics
Number of People in Profession
Changing Employment (2008-2018)
Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).
Almost half of all aircraft mechanic jobs are in air transportation and support activities for air transportation. Other top industries include aerospace product and parts manufacturing and the Federal Government. Most work at major airports near large cities.
Job growth is expected to be about as fast as average, but the best opportunities will go to those who’ve completed an aircraft mechanic training program.
As the economy grows, so should passenger air traffic, which will boost the need for aircraft mechanics. That said, most jobs in the coming decade will come from workers retiring or leaving the field.
As fewer students enter technical schools for skilled trades, the supply of trained aircraft mechanic candidates may not keep up with the air transportation industry’s needs.
The most jobs will be found in general aviation, small regional and commuter airlines and FAA repair shops. Major airlines pay the most, so smaller airlines receive fewer applicants. Competition will be tough for jobs with the major airlines due to travel benefits and higher wages.
Prospects will be best for aircraft mechanic applicants with an A&P certification and experience. In addition, those who keep up with the latest advancements in the field will be more favorable to employers.
Earnings and Salary for Aircraft Mechanics
The median hourly wages for an aircraft mechanic are about $25.39. The highest 10 percent earn above $34.42, the lowest 10 percent earn under $16.04, while the middle 50 percent earn between $20.80 and $29.67. Industries employing the largest numbers of aircraft mechanics offer salaries as follows:
Support activities for air transportation: $20.95 Nonscheduled air transportation: $24.27 Aerospace product and parts manufacturing: $24.47 Federal Executive Branch: $24.98 Scheduled air transportation: $27.96
Annual Salary for Aircraft Mechanics
On average, Aircraft Mechanics earn $52,810 per year.
Hourly Wage for Aircraft Mechanics
On average, Aircraft Mechanics earn $25.39 per hour.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook