The contributions of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians are immeasurably important to the safety of flight passengers everywhere. Aircraft mechanic and maintenance schools strive to teach students how to repair and maintain aircraft to meet standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On this page, we'll talk about how to become an aircraft mechanic, education requirements for jobs in the industry, average aircraft mechanic salary figures and more. Whether you're considering an associate degree in aviation or just wondering what it takes to qualify for basic programs at aircraft maintenance schools, read on below for more info.
What Do Aircraft Mechanics Do?
Aircraft mechanics may work on a wide variety of different engines, fuselages and other systems, and the specific tasks they perform can change from day to day. That said, there is a general set of duties that you can expect will be a part of your career at large once you graduate from aviation mechanic school:
- Diagnosing mechanical or electrical issues in the aircraft.
- Examining individual aircraft parts using gauges and other testing equipment.
- Repairing or replacing defective components of wings, brakes, wiring and other systems.
- Inspecting completed work for accuracy and maintaining records of work performed.
Most aircraft mechanics work in the air transportation industry -- nearly 60 percent, to be precise -- but there are other segments of the job market that make use of their skills. Around 15 percent are employed in aerospace parts and product manufacturing, for example, while roughly 13 percent draw their paychecks from the federal government.
What are Aircraft Mechanic Specializations?
Modern aircraft are highly specialized pieces of machinery which require quality care and service in order to remain operable and fly safely. Because of the complexity of the systems involved, aspiring aviation mechanics may choose to specialize in one of the following ways:
- Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics
- Avionics Technicians
- Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DARs)
- Inspection Authorized (IA) mechanics complete comprehensive maintenance and perform inspections of aircraft
How to Become an Aircraft Mechanic
There are several routes by which you might receive aircraft mechanic training. Some aircraft mechanics attend a community college or vocational school approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), while others gain their skills during their military service.
Here's a short set of steps that you can follow to make yourself into a good candidate for aircraft mechanic jobs:
- Earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
- Complete an aviation mechanic program in college or in the military
- Earn at least one FAA certification
High school students can take courses in math, science and mechanical concepts to prepare them for the challenges of aircraft mechanic school. Once you're in a college program, you're likely to study subjects like these:
- General Aeronautics
- Aircraft Electricity
- Airframe systems
- Technical Mathematics
- Turbine Engine Theory
- Aircraft Fuel Systems
- Aircraft Instrumentation
- Aircraft Landing Gear
Aircraft Mechanic Degree and Certificate Programs
There are several different types of programs available to students at aircraft mechanic school. Cost of tuition tends to depend on the length of the program, but other factors may come into play as well. Here's a quick rundown of common study plans for aviation mechanics:
- Undergraduate certificates and diplomas in aviation maintenance and repair cover the essentials of the field but typically don't include much general academic material. These programs tend to have a shorter time to graduation as a result, often taking as little as 15 months to complete.
- Associate degrees are the most common way that aircraft mechanics learn their trade. Most associate degrees take roughly two years of full-time study to complete, but some institutions may offer accelerated plans that allow you to shorten your time to graduation without sacrificing transferable general education credits that can be useful if you decide to return to school.
- Bachelor's degrees in aviation maintenance are available as well, although they can take four years or more and usually also cover administrative aspects of the career field, such as aviation safety or aviation operations management.
Hands-On Raining Aircraft Mechanic Schools
Aircraft maintenance is a very hands-on field, so chances are you'll be spending quite a bit of time working directly with the sort of aviation systems that you'll see on the job after graduation. Most aviation certificate courses require that students are capable of working well with their hands and learning in an active, direct-contact environment.
Online Aircraft Mechanic Courses and Programs
The media and materials of an aircraft maintenance career tend to be complex and sensitive, and the virtual classroom has yet to evolve to the point where such high-precision work can be effectively modeled in a fully online degree program. Once you have your initial certification and some experience on the job, however, you'll find plenty of opportunity to enhance your education with online aviation certificate courses and degree plans that focus on the management side of the profession.
Aircraft Mechanic Certifications
According to FAA regulation, all aircraft maintenance must be done either by a certified mechanic or by someone under the supervision of a certified mechanic. Here's a quick list of the types of FAA certifications available:
- Airframe (A)
- Powerplant (P)
- Airframe and Powerplant (A and P)
- Inspection Authorization (IA)
In order to be eligible for FAA certification, mechanics must be fluent in English, be at least 18 years of age and have at least 30 months of experience in the field. Successful completion of an aviation mechanic school program at an FAA-approved institution can be substituted for the 30-month job experience requirement.
Career Advancement Options for Aircraft Mechanics
The progression up the career ladder for aircraft mechanics tends to take place naturally, with positions such as lead mechanic, lead inspector and shop supervisor becoming available as you gain years of experience and further develop your knowledge of aviation systems. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers who hold IA certification are likely to have the best opportunities for advancement.
Also, once you have a broad enough base of experience with aircraft maintenance and repair, you may be able to move into positions that occupy a more official capacity. The FAA hires its own examiners and inspectors, and tends to prefer candidates who know the profession inside and out.
Financial Aid for Aircraft Mechanic Programs
Skills and Abilities for Aircraft Mechanics
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) keeps track of the type of skills and abilities that successful professionals in a given field tend to share. Here's a selection of traits from the O*NET list for aircraft mechanics:
- Repairing: is naturally a big part of the job, and it can help a lot to have some experience repairing machines or systems before signing up for an aviation mechanic program.
- Troubleshooting: the use of various operations tests to determine the causes of and solutions to problems, can help you diagnose issues and address them at the source.
- Finger Dexterity: can be highly valuable to aircraft mechanics, since some of the work you do may require you to assemble or repair objects that are small or awkwardly placed.
- Control Precision: is defined as the ability to adjust mechanical or electric controls quickly, repeatedly and precisely, which can save you time on the job.
- Quality Control Analysis: plays a vital role in this field as well, particularly for aspiring inspectors, since aviation companies tend to place a very high value on quality repair and maintenance work.
Aircraft Mechanic Salary and Career Outlook
It's a question you're almost certainly asking yourself by now: "How much do aircraft mechanics make?" Answering that question isn't as easy as just quoting you a single number, since multiple factors -- geography, education, experience, industry segment, etc. -- can influence an individual aircraft mechanic salary.
National average figures can help you put a reasonable frame on the type of pay you can expect, however, so we've listed some salary and job outlook data from the BLS in the table below.
Projected Job Growth
|Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians||131,690||$65,230||3.1%|
Professional Resources for Aircraft Mechanics
Whether you've already graduated from aviation mechanic school or you're still seeking your degree, you can join professional associations that advocate for members of your profession and provide opportunities to network with leaders in the field. Here's a quick list of available professional associations for aircraft mechanics:
- The Professional Aviation Mechanics Association (PAMA) provides professional opportunities for individuals, schools and companies. Six different membership types are available, including student and military memberships, and members can become involved in local chapters.
- The Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC) is a relatively young organization, founded about a dozen years ago, but it pours its energies into promoting the common interests of FAA licensed mechanics.
- The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) is a craft union uses grassroots campaigns and volunteer organizers to advocate on behalf of the profession and engage in the collective bargaining process.