Aviation Maintenance Careers: We Can’t Fly Without You
Aviation maintenance personnel work in highly-technical specialty occupations to keep aircraft operating safely and efficiently. All positions require knowledge gained through training or experience in the performance of maintenance, preventive maintenance or alteration authorized by the certificate under which the work is performed. An individual does not have to hold an FAA certificate to perform maintenance, but the main categories of personnel in the industry – points of entry that interrelate to provide for technical career pathways – can be described according to the relationship between the work performed and the persons, i.e., individuals or companies, certificated to perform it—
- Non-certificated technicians performing work for or under the supervision of a certificate-holding person (e.g., an individual certificated mechanic or a certificate holding entity such as a repair station or air carrier).
- Repairmen endorsed by their part 121, 135 or 145 (air carrier or repair station) certificate-holding employer for certification under part 65, subpart E. Repairmen are authorized to supervise or perform maintenance, preventive maintenance or alteration specific to the job for which they have been endorsed by their employer.
- Mechanics individually certificated under 14 CFR part 65, subpart D. An individual that holds a certificate authorizing the performance of maintenance, preventive maintenance or alterations on civil aircraft within associated ratings (i.e., airframe and/or powerplant), privileges and limitations. Certificated mechanics meeting additional eligibility requirements may earn enhanced “inspection authorization” privileges.
Aviation maintenance professionals work in hangars, on flight lines, or in repair stations on or near large airports, and it is common for specialized service and component maintenance facilities to exist in any industrial or commercial setting. Personnel use hand and power tools and test equipment in addition to advanced computer systems, additive manufacturing processes and other innovative technologies. Work is performed in varying weather, using various levels of physical activity while facing differing professional stress and pressure depending on location and type of work performed.
Aviation maintenance professionals are highly-skilled. Aircraft operate complex systems that range from advanced hydraulics to traditional cables and pulleys, powered by jets, piston engines or other advanced propulsion (or utilizing the force of surrounding air) and specialized equipment is used to perform tasks. Aircraft have fire protection equipment, ice and rain control, position warning alerts and flight controls as well as highly-technical systems providing cabin and passenger conveniences, connectivity and other non-aviation specific functions.
Depending on the specific work performed at any given time, aviation maintenance professionals must utilize a variety of skills attractive in non-aviation industries, which include but are certainly not limited to carpentry, fabrication, construction, electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing and structural engineering…even computer programming.
Technicians often focus on certain specialty areas, which include:
- Avionics. The technology that enables automated aircraft flight functions, in-flight entertainment, global positioning system usage and other electronic and integrated systems requires special skills, knowledge and understanding.
- Balloons and Airships (Blimps, Zeppelins and Dirigibles). From hot air balloons used for pleasure or sightseeing to the aircraft observing sporting events, all require maintenance just like other civil aviation aircraft.
- Composite Maintenance. Common composite materials used in aviation include fiberglass and carbon fiber; maintenance is complex and requires special and specific knowledge and skills.
- Government. In addition to supporting government owned and operated aircraft fleets, aviation maintenance professionals can work for federal executive branch agencies like (in the United States) the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supporting regulatory oversight or other technical activities.
- New Technologies and Services. Cutting across all aviation business areas, rapidly expanding technologies like remote communications and inspection, hybrid-electric and other advanced propulsion, cyber and system software development and others will create opportunities for technically-skilled professionals with knowledge of the industry.
- Nondestructive Inspection (NDI). A method of inspection that entails specialized equipment and knowledge. Common types of NDI methods include radiographic, magnetic particle, ultrasonic, liquid penetrant, eddy current, and thermography/infrared.
- Rotorcraft. Rotorcraft are used by governments in fire-fighting, search and rescue, drug eradication, and to support law enforcement and medical emergency activities and by private operators for sightseeing, construction, logging and other work requiring external load heavy lift operations.
- Ultra-light and Sports Vehicles. While many ultra-light and sports pilots fabricate, operate and can maintain their own aircraft, some request the help of mechanics holding FAA certificates.
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Commonly referred to as “drones,” rapidly developing UAS technology as well as quickly evolving business and regulatory markets will produce great opportunity for professionals capable of maintaining civil aircraft and components.
Video courtesy of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Civil aviation maintenance provides career opportunities for individuals that understand, appreciate and enjoy technically-intense occupations. Work on a civil aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance or an individual component requires—
- Personal integrity. The work is safety-sensitive and each person must perform every task properly regardless of supervision or extenuating human factors.
- Attention to detail. Work must be performed in accordance with proper instructions, without skipping steps or leaving articles behind. Extensive and intensive paperwork must be completed to ensure aviation safety rule compliance.
- Technical skills and knowledge. The profession requires individuals to have the knowledge and skills to perform work properly within the aviation safety rules.
- Regulatory compliance. Knowledge of aviation safety rules governing maintenance and alteration tasks is essential to career advancement.
- Physical abilities and exertion. Maintenance work is physical and will require varying degrees of bodily exertion to accomplish properly.
Most people associate aviation with big airlines (even though many aircraft bearing those carriers’ names are actually operated by smaller, regional companies…but that’s another story). While there are thousands of technicians working on the aircraft you board for your vacation or business trip, that’s just one of many kinds of employment in the industry. Aviation maintenance technicians work in the following areas:
- Airlines (the obvious one).
- Business Aviation (celebrities and business tycoons need to comply with the aviation safety rules, too).
- Fixed-base Operators (airport facilities that generally support general aviation).
- Manufacturers (design and production requires knowledge of maintenance, and producers often manage their own maintenance companies).
- Repair Stations (company’s the contract with operators or owners to maintain aircraft).
- Schools (technicians not only train students, they also maintain aircraft that belong to academic institutions).
It is possible to own and operate an independent business offering services to general aviation and business aircraft owners and operators, fixed-base operators as well as air carriers. Aviation maintenance professionals can develop independent careers through continuous technical education and knowledge growth along with community engagement and networking.
Video courtesy of Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM).
There is no single point of entry or career trajectory for aviation maintenance professionals. Depending on knowledge, education, experience, skill and curiosity, individuals with an interest in the kinds of hands-on, intellectually-challenging and technically-skilled work performed in all manner of aviation maintenance facilities may begin or continue a career through any one of a series of “pathways”:
- Noncertificated Professionals. Individuals not holding an FAA-issued certificate can perform a wide range of work in an aviation environment. They may do so while gaining experience necessary to qualify for endorsement for a repairman’s certificate or to test for a mechanic’s certificate – in some cases as a “mechanic’s helper” under the training program airline, air carrier or repair station. Noncertificated technicians commonly perform maintenance requiring specialized skill in avionics, composite maintenance and nondestructive inspection. However, specialized skills are not limited to these areas and may include any maintenance activity.
- Certificated Repairmen. The repairman is a maintenance technician certificated for specific tasks by the FAA based on an employer endorsement. A repair station, commercial operator or air carrier recommends an individual to be a repairman, which allows technicians holding highly-specialized skills but not meeting the mechanic general eligibility requirements (see below) to quickly enter a certificated role within the employer’s quality system. Repairman have the same authority under the rules, specific to their job, as a mechanic, but they can only exercise the privileges of the certificate while working for the employer that endorsed them.
- Certificated Mechanics. The mechanic is a maintenance technician certificated by the FAA based on their personal knowledge gained through training and experience, which is demonstrated via successful completion of written, oral and practical tests and maintained through continual use. The privileges of a mechanic certificate include the ability to work unsupervised outside of the “quality system” of another person (in other words, mechanics can employ themselves, though they regularly work for other certificate holders) and to sign off on approvals for return to service (a really important authority under the aviation safety rules). Mechanics are often referred to as “A&Ps”, which is shorthand for the Airframe (A) and Powerplant (P) ratings held under their certificates (it is possible for an individual to hold one or both ratings).
- Inspection Authorization (IA). The IA permits an A&P mechanic to perform a greater variety of maintenance and alterations than any other single maintenance authorization. An applicant for an IA must have held their certificate for a certain amount of time, been actively engaged in aircraft maintenance and have access to the necessary equipment, facilities and data. The IA Knowledge Test is comprehensive, covering many subject areas.
- Military Transition. Military veterans are great candidates for aviation maintenance professional employment based on experience and training in the general technical skills – even those not specific to aviation – and the personal attributes required for success in civil aviation. Certain military occupational specialties (MOS/AFSC) may receive credit for practical experience towards a mechanic or repairman certificate. Military personnel seeking employment in civil aviation can enter the industry along any pathway appropriate to their skill and experience.