Aviation Maintenance

To keep aircraft in peak operating condition, aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians perform scheduled maintenance, make repairs, and complete inspections required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Many aircraft mechanics, also called airframe, powerplant, and avionics aviation maintenance technicians, specialize in preventive maintenance. They inspect engines, landing gear, instruments, pressurized sections, accessories—brakes, valves, pumps, and air-conditioning systems, for example—and other parts of the aircraft, and do the necessary maintenance and replacement of parts. Inspections take place following a schedule based on the number of hours the aircraft has flown, calendar days since the last inspection, cycles of operation, or a combination of these factors. Large, sophisticated planes are equipped with aircraft monitoring systems, consisting of electronic boxes and consoles that monitor the aircraft’s basic operations and provide valuable diagnostic information to the mechanic. To examine an engine, aircraft mechanics work through specially designed openings while standing on ladders or scaffolds, or use hoists or lifts to remove the entire engine from the craft. After taking an engine apart, mechanics use precision instruments to measure parts for wear and use x-ray and magnetic inspection equipment to check for invisible cracks. Worn or defective parts are repaired or replaced. Mechanics may also repair sheet metal or composite surfaces, measure the tension of control cables, and check for corrosion, distortion, and cracks in the fuselage, wings, and tail. After completing all repairs, they must test the equipment to ensure that it works properly.

Job Outlook and Growth Potential:

Opportunities for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technician jobs should be excellent for persons who have completed aircraft mechanic training programs. Employment of aircraft mechanics is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012, and large numbers of additional job openings should arise from the need to replace experienced mechanics who retire. Avionics technicians are projected to increase at a slower than average rate. Despite the long-term forecast, these occupations are currently in a period of little to no growth. Reduced passenger traffic resulting from a weak economy and the events of September 11, 2001, have forced airlines to cut back flights and take aircraft out of service. As the economy improves and public reluctance to board aircraft decreases, a growing population should increase passenger traffic and create the need for more aircraft mechanics and service technicians over the next decade. If the number of graduates from aircraft mechanic training programs continues to fall short of employer needs, opportunities for graduates of mechanic training programs should be excellent.

Job opportunities are likely to be the best at small commuter and regional airlines, at FAA repair stations, and in general aviation. Commuter and regional airlines are the fastest growing segment of the air transportation industry, but wages in these companies tend to be lower than those in the major airlines, so they attract fewer job applicants. Also, some jobs will become available as experienced mechanics leave for higher paying jobs with the major airlines or transfer to another occupation. At the same time, general aviation aircraft are becoming increasingly sophisticated, boosting the demand for qualified mechanics. Mechanics will face more competition for jobs with large airlines because the high wages and travel benefits that these jobs offer generally attract more qualified applicants than there are openings. In spite of this, job opportunities with the airlines are expected to be better than they have been in the past. But, in general, prospects will be best for applicants with experience. Mechanics who keep abreast of technological advances in electronics, composite materials, and other areas will be in greatest demand. The number of job openings for aircraft mechanics in the Federal Government should decline as the government increasingly contracts out service and repair functions to private repair companies.

Wages and Earnings Potential:

Median hourly earnings of aircraft mechanics and service technicians were about $20.71 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $16.94 and $25.23. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13.16, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $28.92. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of aircraft mechanics and service technicians in 2002 were:

Air transportation, scheduled $23.48
Federal Government $20.59
Air transportation, nonscheduled $19.84
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing $19.68
Support activities for air transportation $17.64

Mechanics who work on jets for the major airlines generally earn more than those working on other aircraft. Airline mechanics and their immediate families receive reduced-fare transportation on their own and most other airlines.

Almost 4 in 10 aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians are members of or covered by union agreements. The principal unions are the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Transport Workers Union of America. Some mechanics are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Related Careers:
Automotive Maintenance
Power Technology

Schools Offering Programs for this Career:
Columbus State Community College

Copyright © 2014, Ohio's 2-Year Council of Deans and Directors of Engineering & Industrial Technologies

Career information from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition and member schools.