Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians repair and perform scheduled maintenance on aircraft. They also perform aircraft inspections as required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Aircraft mechanics typically do the following:
- Examine replacement aircraft parts for defects
- Diagnose mechanical or electrical problems
- Read maintenance manuals to identify repair procedures
- Repair wings, brakes, electrical systems, and other aircraft components
- Replace defective parts using hand tools or power tools
- Test aircraft parts with gauges and other diagnostic equipment
- Inspect completed work to ensure that it meets performance standards
- Keep records of maintenance and repair work
Avionics technicians typically do the following:
- Test electronic instruments, using circuit testers, oscilloscopes, and voltmeters
- Interpret flight test data to diagnose malfunctions and performance problems
- Assemble components, such as electrical controls and junction boxes, and install software
- Install instrument panels, using hand tools, power tools, and soldering irons
- Repair or replace malfunctioning components
- Keep records of maintenance and repair work
Today’s airplanes are highly complex machines that require reliable parts and service to fly safely. To keep an airplane in peak operating condition, aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians perform scheduled maintenance, make repairs, and complete inspections. They must follow detailed federal regulations set by the FAA that dictate maintenance schedules for a variety of different operations.
Many mechanics are generalists and work on many different types of aircraft, such as jets, piston-driven airplanes, and helicopters. Others specialize in one section of a particular type of aircraft, such as the engine, hydraulics, or electrical system of a particular aircraft. In independent repair shops, mechanics usually inspect and repair many different types of aircraft.
Most mechanics who work on civilian aircraft have either one or both of the FAA’s Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificates. Mechanics who have these certificates are authorized to work on most parts of the aircraft, excluding flight instruments and major work on propellers. Maintaining a plane’s electronic flight instruments is typically the job of specialized avionics technicians.
The following are examples of types of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians:
Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanics are certified generalist mechanics who can independently perform many maintenance and alteration tasks on aircraft. A&P mechanics repair and maintain most parts of an aircraft, including the engines, landing gear, brakes, and air conditioning systems. Some specialized activities require additional experience and certification.
Maintenance schedules for aircraft may be based on hours flown, days since the last inspection, trips flown, or a combination of these factors. Maintenance also may need to be done to address specific issues recognized by manufacturers. To complete maintenance, mechanics use precision instruments to measure wear and identify defects. They may use x rays, magnetic, or ultrasonic inspection equipment to discover cracks that cannot be seen on a plane’s exterior. They check for corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the aircraft's main body, wings, and tail. They then repair the metal, fabric, wood, or composite materials that make up the airframe and skin.
After completing all repairs, mechanics must test the equipment to ensure that it works properly. Aircraft equipped with digital monitoring systems can provide mechanics with valuable diagnostic information from electronic consoles. Mechanics must also keep records of all maintenance that they do on an aircraft.
The A&P ratings are generally considered the initial and most basic ratings needed to be a professional mechanic. Many additional certifications and specializations can be pursued to expand the ability of a mechanic to perform additional duties. Some of these specializations are as follows:
Avionics technicians are specialists who repair and maintain a plane’s electronic instruments, such as radio communications, radar systems, and navigation aids. As the use of digital technology increases, more time is spent maintaining computer systems. The ability to repair and maintain many avionics and flight instrument systems is granted through the Airframe rating, but other licenses or certifications may be needed.
Designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) examine, inspect, and test aircraft for airworthiness. They issue airworthiness certificates, which aircraft must have to fly. There are two types of DARs, manufacturing DARs and maintenance DARs.
Inspection Authorized (IA) mechanics are mechanics who have both Airframe and Powerplant licenses and who may perform inspections on aircraft and return them to service. IA mechanics are able to do a wider variety of maintenance and alterations than any other type of maintenance personnel, such as comprehensive annual inspections or returning aircraft to service after a major repair.
Repairmen certificate holders may or may not have the A&P or other certificates. Repairmen certificates are issued by certified repair stations to aviation maintenance personnel and the certificates allow them to do very specific duties. Repairmen certificates are valid only while the mechanic works at the issuing repair center and are not transferable to other employers.
Aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians held about 138,900 jobs in 2012. Approximately 88 percent were aircraft mechanics and the rest were avionics technicians. The majority worked for private companies and about 14 percent worked for the federal government.
The industries that employed the most aircraft mechanics in 2012 were as follows:
|Support activities for air transportation||26%|
|Scheduled air transportation||25|
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||16|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||15|
|Nonscheduled air transportation||4|
The industries that employed the most avionics technicians in 2012 were as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||30%|
|Support activities for air transportation||27|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||13|
|Scheduled air transportation||12|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||6|
Mechanics and technicians work in hangars, in repair stations, or on airfields. They must meet strict deadlines while maintaining safety standards.
Most mechanics and technicians work near major airports. Mechanics may work outside, on the airfield, or in climate-controlled shops and hangars. Civilian mechanics employed by the U.S. Armed Forces work on military installations.
Injuries and Illnesses
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians experience rates of injuries and illnesses that are higher than the average across all occupations.
Mechanics and technicians often lift heavy objects, handle dangerous chemicals, or operate large power tools. They frequently stand, lie, or kneel on the ground and may work on scaffolds or ladders. Noise and vibrations are common, especially when engines are being tested, and they often endure hot and cold temperatures.
Mechanics and technicians usually work full time on rotating 8-hour shifts. Overtime and weekend work is common. Day shifts are usually reserved for mechanics with the most seniority. General aviation mechanics and technicians typically have more flexible schedules than those working for airlines.
Most aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians learn their trade at an FAA-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School. Others enter with a high school education or equivalent and are trained on the job. Some workers enter the occupation after getting training in the military. Aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians are typically certified by the FAA. See the Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 65, subpart D and E, for the most current requirements for becoming a certified mechanic.
Education and Training
Aircraft mechanics and service technicians typically enter the occupation after attending a Part 147 FAA-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School. These programs award a certificate of completion that the FAA recognizes as an alternate to the experience requirements stated in the regulations, and grants holders the ability to take the relevant FAA exams.
Some aircraft mechanics and service technicians enter the occupation with a high school diploma or equivalent and receive on-the-job training to learn their skills and to be able to pass the FAA exams. Some workers enter the occupation after getting training in the military. Aviation maintenance personnel who are not certified by the FAA work under supervision until they have enough experience and knowledge and become certified.
Avionics technicians typically earn an associate’s degree before entering the occupation. Aircraft controls, systems, and flight instruments have become increasingly digital and computerized. Maintenance workers who have the proper background in aviation flight instruments or computer repair are needed to maintain these complex systems.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians are not required to get licenses or certifications, most do, as these credentials often improve a mechanic’s wages and chances for employment. The FAA requires that aircraft maintenance either be done by or under the supervision of a certified mechanic with the appropriate ratings or authorizations.
The FAA offers separate certifications for body work (Airframe mechanics, or “A”) and engine work (Powerplant mechanics, or “P”), but employers may prefer to hire mechanics who have both Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) ratings. The A&P ratings generally certify that aviation mechanics meet basic knowledge and ability standards.
Mechanics must be at least 18 years of age, be fluent in English, and have 30 months of experience to qualify for both the A and P ratings (A&P). If only one rating is sought by the mechanic, 18 months experience is required to take either the Airframe or the Powerplant exams. However, completion of a program at a Part 147 FAA-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School can substitute for the experience requirement and shorten the time requirements to become eligible to take the FAA exams.
Applicants must pass written, oral, and practical exams that demonstrate the required skills. Candidates must pass all the tests within 2 years.
To keep their certification, mechanics must have completed relevant repair or maintenance work within the previous 24 months. To fulfill this requirement, mechanics may take classes from their employer, a school, or an aircraft manufacturer.
Avionics technicians are typically certified through a repair station for the specific work being done or hold the Airframe rating to work on an aircraft’s electronic and flight instrument systems. An Aircraft Electronics Technician (AET) certification is available through the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies. It certifies that aviation mechanics have a basic level of knowledge in the subject area, but it is not required by the FAA for any specific tasks. Avionics technicians who work on communications equipment may need to have the proper radio-telephone operator certification issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Other licenses and certifications are available to mechanics who wish to increase their skill set or advance their careers. The Inspection Authorization (IA) is available to mechanics who have had their A&P ratings for at least 3 years and meet other requirements. These mechanics are able to sign off on many major repairs and alterations. Mechanics can get many other certifications, such as Repairmen of light-sport aircraft, or Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR).
Agility. Mechanics and technicians need to climb on airplanes, balance, and reach without falling.
Detail oriented. Mechanics and technicians need to adjust airplane parts to exact specifications. For example, they often use precision tools to tighten wheel bolts to an exact tension.
Dexterity. Mechanics and technicians must possess dexterity to coordinate the movement of their fingers and hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble parts.
Observational skills. Mechanics and technicians must recognize engine noises, read gauges, and otherwise collect information to determine whether an aircraft’s systems are working properly.
Troubleshooting skills. Mechanics and technicians diagnose complex problems and they need to evaluate options to correct those problems.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Avionics technicians may begin their careers as aircraft mechanics and service technicians. As aircraft mechanics and service technicians gain experience, they may study independently, attend formal classes, or otherwise choose to pursue additional certifications that grant the privileges to work on specialized flight instruments. Eventually, they may become dedicated avionics technicians who work exclusively on flight instruments.
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 (IA). Many specialist certifications are available that allow mechanics to do a wider variety of repairs and alterations.
Mechanics with broad experience in maintenance and repair might become inspectors or examiners for the FAA.
Additional business and management training may help aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians open their own maintenance facility.
The median annual wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians was $55,210 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent of aircraft mechanics earned less than $35,190, and the top 10 percent earned more than $76,660.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for aircraft mechanics and service technicians in the top five industries in which these mechanics worked were as follows:
|Scheduled air transportation||$59,110|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||55,940|
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||55,650|
|Nonscheduled air transportation||54,910|
|Support activities for air transportation||49,120|
The median annual wage for avionics technicians was $55,350 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent of avionics technicians earned less than $39,150, and the top 10 percent earned more than $73,770.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for avionics technicians in the top five industries in which these technicians worked were as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||$60,780|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||59,750|
|Scheduled air transportation||58,530|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||54,090|
|Support activities for air transportation||50,040|
Mechanics and technicians usually work full time on rotating 8-hour shifts. Overtime and weekend work is often required. Day shifts are usually reserved for mechanics with the most seniority.
Compared with workers in all occupations, aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.
Air traffic is expected to gradually increase over the coming decade. However, new aircraft are generally expected to require less maintenance than older aircraft. Airlines may continue to outsource maintenance work to specialized maintenance and repair shops both domestically and abroad. Increased specialization will allow maintenance facilities to use their resources more efficiently and therefore limit growth in the number of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians.
Competition for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanic and technician jobs varies according to the type of job sought. In general, job opportunities will be best for mechanics who hold an A&P certificate and have knowledge about the most cutting edge technologies and composite materials. Familiarity with computers and digital systems will help provide the best opportunities.
Bachelor’s degree holders typically have an advantage when trying to enter the occupation and may find it easier to advance.
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For additional career information about aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians, see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article “Sky-high careers: jobs related to airlines.”