Aircraft mechanics repair and perform scheduled maintenance on airplanes and helicopters. They also inspect airplanes and helicopters as required by federal agencies.
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Aircraft mechanics typically:
Today’s airplanes are highly complex machines that require reliable parts and service to fly safely. To keep an airplane in peak operating condition, they do scheduled maintenance, make repairs, and complete inspections.
Some mechanics work on many different types of aircraft, such as jets, propeller-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 jet. In small, independent repair shops, mechanics usually inspect and repair many different types of aircraft. Most mechanics who work on civilian aircraft have some sort of official certification. Mechanics that have this certificate are authorized to work on any part of the aircraft, except electronic flight instruments. Maintaining a plane’s electronic flight instruments is the job of avionics technicians.
Most mechanics and technicians learn their trade in a federally approved training program.. Coursework normally lasts 18 to 24 months and provides training with the tools and equipment used on the job. About one-third of the programs award two- or four-year degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management. Increasingly, employers are looking more favorably on those with a bachelor’s degree. Aircraft trade schools are placing more emphasis on technologies being used in new airplanes, such as turbine engines, composite materials, and aviation electronics. These technical advances require mechanics to have stronger backgrounds in composite materials and electronics.
Courses in mathematics, physics, chemical engineering, electronics, computer science, and mechanical drawing are helpful because they teach the principles involved in operating an airplane. Mechanics often need this knowledge to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. Courses that develop writing, communication, and management skills are important for mechanics who want to move into senior positions.
Employment of aircraft mechanics is concentrated in a small number of industries. The majority work for private companies and about 15% work for the federal government. Mechanics work in hangars, in repair stations, or on airfields. They must often meet strict deadlines to maintain flight schedules. At the same time, they must maintain safety standards, and doing both can cause stress.
The work can be noisy from loud aircraft engines. Workers must often bend, stoop, and reach from ladders and scaffolds. Most mechanics work near major airports. Airline mechanics often work outside, on the airfield, while repair and corporate mechanics work in climate-controlled shops. Civilian mechanics employed by the armed forces work on military installations.
Most mechanics work full time and overtime and weekend work is common.
The median annual wage of aircraft mechanics was $53,420 in May 2010. (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% of aircraft mechanics earned less than $33,630, and the top 10% earned more than $72,250.