How to Become an Aircraft Mechanic

Airplanes are some of the most miraculous and amazing machines that humans have ever invented.

If you’ve ever wondered exactly how these machines work and how they stay in the sky, becoming an aircraft mechanic might be the perfect career path for you. It can be a fun and challenging career, and it offers good economic prospects and future job security.

Aircraft mechanics are some of the most important people when it comes to aviation safety and reliability. Therefore, you might also enjoy being an aircraft mechanic if you enjoy working under a little pressure or having people rely on you.

What Does an Aircraft Mechanic Do?

Aircraft mechanics, also called aircraft maintenance technicians or AMTs, are the experts responsible for maintaining and repairing aircraft of all different types and models.

Aircraft mechanics perform both regular and emergency work on their assigned craft and are in very high demand due to the extremely technical nature of their work.

Aircraft mechanics are chiefly responsible for the proper function of various types of aircraft. They must be extremely diligent and detail oriented, as the machines which they maintain have many complex moving parts that must all be accounted for.

The primary purpose of an aircraft mechanic is to establish and ensure safe working conditions for the aircraft for the duration of its flights.

Aircraft maintenance and repair is a never-ending process, as regular wear and tear and use of aircraft require them to be examined frequently by a mechanic.

These professionals can work in either the civilian sector or the military, and many have worked for both at one point during their lives. Civilian aircraft mechanic jobs can be related to transportation and commercial services, as well as delivery services for various companies such as UPS or USPS.

Most aircraft mechanics specialize in certain subtypes of aircraft, although general knowledge of core aircraft maintenance is required to become certified and approved for work.

Aircraft Mechanic Duties

  • Repair aircraft after regular wear and tear or standard flights.
  • Examine aircraft before and after flights to catch potential issues before they cause an emergency. Also known as preventative maintenance.
  • Perform routine maintenance that allows aircraft to function effectively and perform all of its duties without interruption or danger.
  • Remain knowledgeable about new and improved aircraft models and aviation developments to be able to effectively care for newer aircraft.
  • Perform emergency repair work to ensure that military and civilian aircraft can return to their duties quickly.

Desirable Skills & Qualities of an Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft mechanics must have a certain set of skills and qualities to be considered for the profession.

These qualities are necessary so that the mechanic can maintain the proper detail oriented and safety focused demeanor required to consistently maintain aircraft up to standards.

Observational Skills

Aircraft mechanics must be aware of their environment as they frequently work in busy locations around other technicians and operational aircraft. In addition, mechanics must be able to effectively observe the aircraft that they are working on and identify any potential flaws or safety issues that need to be handled.

Strength

A lot of the work of an aircraft mechanic is physical, and often involves carrying heavy equipment or aircraft parts as well as reaching high objects or places or fitting into cramped space to perform maintenance.

Dexterity

Aircraft mechanics must be able to perform complex mechanical tasks with their fingers, as they often operate complicated tools and perform delicate repair or maintenance work on aircraft.

Detail-Oriented

All aircraft mechanics must have an eye for detail, as airplanes and helicopters are extremely complicated machines with many small parts that all play a role in the proper function of the craft. A good aircraft mechanic must be able to notice when something is awry and must not be willing to rest until the issue has been taken care of. Focusing on details will ensure that the mistakes are made and safety is placed above all other concerns.

Spatial Aptitude

Aircraft mechanics which have a natural inclination toward solving spatial problems will have an advantage, as the majority of aircraft mechanic work takes place operating real machinery with real mechanical parts.

Aircraft Mechanic Education Requirements

Aircraft mechanics are not required to have any sort of college degree to enter the profession. However, the vast majority of aircraft mechanics do have some form of educational degree.

There are both associate and bachelor’s degree programs that are available in disciplines that relate directly to aircraft maintenance and repair skill sets.

By obtaining a degree in some of the specializations, aspiring aircraft mechanics can improve their chances of being hired quickly and in a desirable location.

All aircraft mechanics must pass FAA written, oral, and practical exams. In addition, they must either graduate from an FAA-approved school for maintenance or gain at least 18 months of on-the-job experience.

Accomplishing either of these goals and passing the above tests award the trainee with either an Airframe (A) or Powerplant (P) Certificate. It is also possible to get a joint A&P Certificate with enough work experience in both types of mechanical environments.

Accreditation

Becoming an aircraft mechanic requires that you pass three sets of exams: oral, written, and practical, in addition to accruing enough on-the-job experience or graduating from a Part 147 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school.

Completing both of these objectives results in you obtaining your Aircraft Mechanic Certification, allowing you to be employed for the purpose of aircraft maintenance and repair.

Associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in various disciplines of aviation maintenance technology that are also certified by the FAA may be substituted for the maintenance technician school and will allow the prospective mechanic to become certified in both airframe and powerplant maintenance types.

Accredited schools ensure that the education received by the potential aircraft mechanic is up to the rigorous safety standards required to ensure that the job is done correctly.

Most aircraft mechanics at least earn an associate’s degree in aviation maintenance-related field before acquiring their credentials.

What You’ll Study

There are many different subjects relevant to aviation and aircraft maintenance that you will study either during your time at an FAA-approved technician school or a college that provides an accredited aviation maintenance technology degree.

For the written exam required by the FAA to become certified, you’ll study subjects relating to aviation maintenance and airframe and power frame maintenance issue specifically.

Aviation maintenance technology associate’s and bachelor’s degrees will cover a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Aerodynamics, which is the study of movements through the air as well as the interaction of air and solid bodies that move through it.
  • Aircraft electrical systems, which involves in-depth explanations to allow the student to understand exactly how various aircraft work and are supposed to function.
  • Material science, which teaches the students how various different materials interact and work together for the proper function of an aircraft.
    Instrumentation, to teach the student how aircraft are supposed to be flown. Aircraft mechanics must know how aircraft are flown in order to properly perform maintenance and repair work.
  • Electrical systems, specifically the study of electrical systems as is relevant to the operation of aircraft.
  • Fuel, air and exhaust systems, which are necessary to perform proper maintenance work.

In addition, these programs will likely also have courses covering rudimentary physics and other mechanical staples. Some chemistry knowledge may be included in the course depending on the accredited school. Basic college-level mathematics courses are a necessity, although higher levels of math are not required to graduate from most aviation maintenance technology programs.

Training Information & Types of Aircraft Mechanic Degrees

As previously explained, there are two main pathways to becoming an aircraft mechanic.

You must, no matter what, become certified by the FAA and take written, practical, and oral exams to prove your knowledge of the required material. You must then either have a certain amount of time in on-the-job experience or graduate from an accredited aviation maintenance technology degree program.

Neither of these pathways is necessarily better than the other, although the degree pathway provides a potential aircraft mechanic with better potential career prospects.

In addition, one may go through the military and learn the required material during their service. The service member must become certified to perform aircraft maintenance on military vehicles, and so will be educated by the military in much the same way they would be if they attended an FAA-certified school or program.

Option 1: Aircraft Mechanic Certification and OTJ Experience

A potential aircraft mechanic may receive 18 months of experience with either power plants for airframes, or 30 months of working with both at the same time. This counts as on-the-job (OTJ) work experience and negates the requirement to graduate from an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school or accredited aviation maintenance degree program.

This experience can be obtained by working at an aircraft construction facility, repair yard, recycling plant, or other factories where the parts of an aircraft are made or disassembled. Airframe work deals with airplane pieces besides the engine, while power plant work handles engine work specifically.

At the end of the 18 or 30 months and within two years, applicants for certification must then complete all three aforementioned tests to become certified.

Admission Requirements

The requirements to obtain a job working in this field vary greatly depending on area and employment opportunities. You can be hired by an aircraft maintenance and repair facility with as little as a high school diploma or equivalent, although it will be much easier to obtain this job with at least an associate’s degree in some related subject.

To get a job in the United States, you must normally be 18 years or older of age and have a high school diploma or equivalent. You must also fulfill these requirements to become certified.

In addition, you must be able to read and write proficiently in order to take the exam and become certified.

Option 2: FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School

Alternatively, a prospective aircraft mechanic may attend an FAA-approved technician school. These schools focus exclusively on education related to aviation maintenance and will teach you how to effectively maintain and repair all types of aircraft, as well as overhaul entire components or systems.

A technician school is applied to in much the same way as a classic college, although the requirements are different and in some ways less competitive. Technician schools may or may not have on-campus housing, depending on the location. In addition, some technician schools offer financing options while others require payment up front.

Most technician schools have flexible schedules or class times for those who must work while they attend school.

Admission Requirements

You only need to have graduated from high school or obtained a GED based on the US educational system to be admitted to a maintenance technician school. The exact requirements of each school will vary slightly but are usually less competitive than many typical college degree programs. There may be wait lists for particular schools depending on admission rates.

Option 3: Associate’s Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology

Entering college and obtaining an associate’s degree in aviation maintenance technology is another way to bypass on-the-job experience on your way to achieving your certification.

While obtaining your associate’s degree, you’ll receive training in both airframes, or structural, systems and power plant, or engine, systems, although some programs specialize in either one discipline or the other.

Associate’s degrees that are from an FAA accredited school can count for the aviation maintenance technician school requirement.

Admission Requirements

Getting into an associate’s program requires possession of a high school diploma or equivalent, plus previous experience in various aviation-related fields such as physics, mathematics, and computer technology. Extracurricular programs with an emphasis on mechanics will boost a particular candidates likeliness to be accepted into a program.

Courses

Courses for an associate’s degree in aviation maintenance technology will include both general education courses along with more technical training. Some of these courses include lessons on electrical systems, the maintenance of aircraft structures and mechanical systems, and aerodynamics.

Option 4: Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology

Finally, potential aircraft mechanics may also get a bachelor’s degree in aviation maintenance technology.

This provides even higher technical training in aircraft maintenance along with the same general education provided in an associate’s degree program. In addition, those who go for bachelor’s degrees will find themselves in positions more prepared for management or higher-level positions in the workforce once they graduate.

Bachelor’s degrees from an FAA accredited school can also count for the aviation maintenance technician school requirement.

Admission Requirements

To be accepted to a bachelor’s degree program, applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent as well as strong grades or high GPA. Focuses on past experience in related fields such as physics, mathematics, and other hard sciences are preferred if not required depending on the program.

More competitive schools require extracurricular activities and a good academic record for an applicant to be considered for acceptance.

Courses

Bachelor’s degree programs provide students with many courses related to aviation maintenance technology, plus general education courses. More theoretical courses surrounding the future of the aviation industry may be included depending on the exact program.

Furthermore, bachelor’s degrees may incorporate business courses to prepare graduates for potential leadership or management roles in the aviation maintenance industry.

Online Aircraft Mechanic Programs

There are some online aviation maintenance certification courses and programs that may be pursued by students who cannot physically attend class. However, the FAA does not recognize any online courses or corresponding courses in lieu of practical experience or courses that are attended at an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school or relevant degree program.

Basically, online courses can help you sharpen your skills but do not count the FAA’s eyes. They do not progress you toward certification in any meaningful way.

How to Get Your Aircraft Mechanic License

To obtain your aircraft mechanic’s license, you must take three different tests and pass all of them within two years.

The written test is actually broken down into three smaller tests, with a general section of 60 multiple-choice questions and airframe and powerframe sections broken down into 100 multiple-choice questions. To pass the test, you must receive a 70% or better score.

The practical test has an oral and practical portion during which you must discuss and demonstrate your knowledge regarding aviation technology and aircraft maintenance safety standards. It includes 43 different subject areas.

In addition to the above tests, you must also receive either on-the-job experience or attend an aviation maintenance technician school that is been accredited by the FAA, or attended a bachelor’s or associate’s degree program that the FAA recognizes as an effective replacement for the technician school.

License Renewal

Your aircraft mechanic’s license must be kept relevant by performing repair or maintenance work at least once every 24 months. Classes from an employer or aircraft manufacturer can also count as this type of work. If you failed to perform any relevance repair or maintenance work, your license may be viewed as suspended or ineligible for employers.

To renew your license after it has expired, you must pass all three exams once again, although you do not have to attend another school or receive more on-the-job experience.

Summary

In summary, to become an aircraft mechanic, you must:

  • Pass three different exams given by the FAA: oral, written, and practical;
  • Have either 18 months of on-the-job experience in either airframe or powerplant working environments, or attend an FAA accredited aviation maintenance technician school and graduate, or attend an FAA accredited associate’s or bachelor’s degree program in aviation maintenance.

Once both the exams have been passed and any of the above three options have been completed, you will receive your aircraft mechanic certificate and be eligible for hire for the purpose of aircraft repair and maintenance.

Aircraft Mechanic Salary & Growth

In general, aircraft mechanics make decent wages. The median annual pay for aircraft mechanics is $62,920, with lower ranges around $35,000 and higher ranges around $100,000. Your potential earnings will be impacted by economic area, level of experience, and other factors.

Aircraft mechanic employment is projected to grow over the next seven years, which is about average for most other occupations. As air traffic is expected to increase as time goes on, aircraft maintenance is expected to remain a steady field for experts with the right specializations.

Job opportunities should be good since aging aircraft mechanics will need to be replaced by younger candidates.

Progression can be achieved from consistent performance and by earning an Inspection Authorization (IA), while allows mechanics to review and approve repairs or alterations. These authorizations are only available to mechanics with at least 3 years of experience and other requirements.

Aircraft Mechanic Associations, Groups & Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

This varies depending on the path you take to obtain your certification, but most aircraft mechanics go from beginning their program to obtaining their certification in around two years.
This also varies depending on your path. If you only take the written tests and obtain on-the-job experience, becoming an aircraft mechanic doesn’t cost you much beyond the small test fees. If you go to school, tuition costs can range from anywhere as low as $20,000-$80,000 or even higher.
You don’t need a degree to become an aircraft mechanic, but relevant degrees are associate’s or bachelor’s in aviation maintenance technology or similar field.

Being an aircraft mechanic is not particularly dangerous, although you are often around hazardous and heavy machinery and equipment. So long as you maintain proper work discipline and remain alert, on-the-job injury is not very likely.

Most aircraft mechanics work between 37 to 40 hours a week, although those with more responsibility may work for longer hours or throughout the week. In addition, most aircraft mechanics are not allowed to go home until all of their work is completed, regardless of how much time they have already spent at work that day.

Working takes place in all weather conditions, as flying occurs every day no matter rain or shine. Work can take place either indoors or outdoors in all kinds of temperatures, and maintenance or repair work is often done on the knees or in positions which require some physical dexterity and stamina.

Most aircraft mechanics are required to lift heavy machinery or equipment throughout the day, although office work is less strenuous.

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Noel Griffith

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