Being an aircraft avionic and airplane technician is an interesting career for those of a technical bent who are interested in aviation and hands on technical work. It allows individuals to work with their hands, with problem solving, and with technical issues. Technicians with a good knowledge background are especially necessary in the increasingly technical world of air travel.
The general hourly average for an aircraft technician is between around $20 and $27 hourly. This varies somewhat by the concentration. Scheduled air transportation techs tend to be at the top of the range, while aerospace parts manufacturing and nonscheduled air transportation falls in the middle, and support type work comes in at the bottom. Scheduled air transport technical work probably commands such a high salary because of the pressure and time deadlines involved. These technicians must maintain the safety and mechanical integrity of planes that depart and arrive on tight schedules, so they must be highly competent and able to work under pressure.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Being an aircraft technician/mechanic requires a thorough knowledge of the basic systems of an aircraft. Though there are specializations, mechanics must have a good overall understanding of aircraft engineering and repair procedures. One of the main duties of an aircraft mechanic is often to inspect planes between flights and do any necessary repair, replacement, and upkeep in a timely fashion. With planes it is especially crucial that all the systems are functioning properly on a day to day basis, as there is little margin for error when the craft is high in the air.
These technicians generally work on ladders that can be wheeled up to the plane. They can access critical systems such as the engine through service openings and thus both test and repair/replace any parts that are faulty. This may be in response to their own diagnostic assessments or to complaints by the pilot. There are also computerized diagnostic devices installed in the aircraft that can be accessed to gather information on the state of the systems in the aircraft.
In the case of scheduled aircraft, for instance for commercial airlines with an ongoing traffic flow, aircraft technicians have both the goal of diagnosing and correcting potential or actual problems, and of getting the aircraft back into service as quickly as is reasonable. Thus they must balance efficiency with thoroughness. In case of larger problems, however, thoroughness comes first, as catastrophic disasters are obviously far worse than extended delays.
The two basic mechanic/technician categories in the field are airframe mechanics, and power plant mechanics. The former are not qualified to work on engines but may service any other parts of the plane. The latter mainly concentrate on engines. Airframe and power plant mechanics are ones that have required both skills sets and thus may work on everything except the plane’s instrumentation and guidance systems. These types of combination mechanics represent the majority of aircraft mechanics employed by commercial airlines.
For the instruments, there are avionics technicians. They repair the radio communications, guidance, and weather radar systems components of aircraft to keep them functioning at an optimal level. These technicians require a thorough background in electrical engineering and electronics as applied to aircraft navigation.
The job outlook for aircraft technicians follows the generally increasing demand curve of most skilled professions. A 7% demand increase is expected by 2018. Competition will also most likely be fairly high, especially for jobs with larger commercial airlines.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
The aim of training in the field is FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) certification. Mostly this is achieved by completing 1, 2, or 4 year programs at FAA certified schools. The only criteria for entrance into these programs are that the individual must be over 18 years old and have a high school diploma. These programs consist of a minimum of 1,900 classroom hours and usually require 18 months of on the job experience for airframe certification and 24 months for power plant certification. Often FAA schools have the facilities for students to complete this hands on experience. But if not, students apprentice with certified mechanics already working at airlines. When the classroom and field experience are completed the student must take and pass practical, written, and oral examinations to receive certification.
As noted above, the primary certification for the field is the FAA certification, awarded at completion of an FAA approved and accredited educational program and field work. The Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) also provides some certifications such as the Aviations Maintenance Specialist (AMS) and the Aviation Maintenance Engineer (AME) certifications. These latter certify a technician for more skilled work in the profession.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA), both mentioned above, are two prominent professional associations in the field. A third is the National Center for Aircraft Technician Training (NCATT), which oversees and maintains educational programs for aircraft mechanics and technicians.
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