When you first set out on your Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT) career, you might not realize how many different paths there are to take. Many people consider the airlines the ultimate career choice, and in many ways, they are the top.
But what sort of company you work for will determine much about your lifestyle, where you live, your work-life balance, and, of course, how much money you’ll make.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of working for an airline as an A&P and some of the other choices out there.
Three A&P Career Paths
Aviation mechanics have three primary choices in terms of career paths.
Over their years in the industry, many pros have jumped between these options. You might see your goals and aspirations change as you learn more about the industry and make more contacts.
In other words, you don’t necessarily have to choose and stick with one path. But having an idea of the differences and what to expect from each is critical.
Airline Mechanic Jobs
The headliners for any job in the aviation industry are the big flag carriers like United, Delta, or American.
These companies are the first ones on everyone’s tongues when the word aviation is mentioned—those operators of Boeings and Alaska, and Spirit.
But regional carriers like Envoy, Piedmont, Republic, ExpressJet, Mesa, Air Wisconsin, and SkyWest also exist.
And then there are even smaller operators who serve only a few airports with small piston planes, like Cape Air or Silver.
Business Aviation AMTs
Corporate or business aviation also employs many mechanics.
These operators are often called charter companies. Some operators have maintenance departments; in other cases, independent MRO facilities work exclusively with the charter operators.
GA (General Aviation) Maintenance Shops
GA describes a huge sector of the industry that is often not seen. It’s defined as any aviation that is not airline or military.
So, GA facilities include everything from flight schools to mom-and-pop maintenance hangers where small aircraft owners get work performed.
It also includes many independent mechanics, plus smaller corporate operators that don’t have their own maintenance departments.
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Working as an A&P for an Airline
Airline jobs are some of the most coveted for mechanics in the aviation industry, and for good reason. These jobs are some of the most stable and highest-paying in the field.
It’s important to realize that not all airlines are created equally.
Smaller regional operators are often used as stepping stones to get jobs at the major airlines. These small operators don’t pay as well and will often have fewer benefits.
They have high turnover, especially when mechanic positions are easier to get at the major carriers.
The typical airline career path would involve starting at a regional carrier and then working your way up until you can apply to the majors.
Airline careers are based on seniority—the longer you’re with the company, the more perks you can get. You must have seniority to apply for promotions, request transfers to more convenient base locations, and even get your schedule choices.
That means that your hours and pay will not be great as a new hire at a regional airline.
But things quickly improve once you’ve had time with a company.
Pros of Working for the Airlines
- You’ll work as one member of a large team
- Union representation
- Good salary and benefits packages plus travel perks with your airline
- Highly structured employment with management oversight and professional training
- Many opportunities for career growth and advancement
- Long-term, stable job possibilities
Cons of Working for the Airlines
- You’ll work only on the airline’s fleet, with little variety in the types of aircraft
- Work for regional first, which means lower pay and fewer benefits for the first few years
- Airline seniority system means you must move up the ranks before getting promoted
- Night shifts and holiday work for those with low seniority
- Limited location options—you’ll have to live where the airline has a maintenance base (mostly large cities and hubs)
What About Working as an A&P in Business Aviation or GA?
Working at a corporate or GA maintenance facility differs from working at an airline. Many maintenance techs choose where they work based more on the culture and working environment than on the pay and benefits alone.
One fundamental difference is what your daily activities will look like.
At an airline, you’ll spend most days focusing on a task you’ve been specializing in for a while. When you work as part of a big team at an airline, it can feel like you’re the widget installer.
In a GA shop, you might spend your morning welding spars on an antique warbird and your afternoon overhauling a state-of-the-art chopper turbine engine.
There’s a lot of variety in your tasks from hour to hour, and you might even get out of the shop and travel to rescue some stranded pilot.
Pros of the GA Shop
- Better shifts—most facilities are open standard business hours and closed for holidays
- Better work-life balance than airline jobs
- Easy to get hired right out of school
- Can work on many different aircraft types, from small private planes to large corporate jets or helicopters
- Helicopter and tour operators offer seasonal and regional work all over the globe
- Organization sizes range from solo independents to large multi-base companies.
- Hands-off management, small teams, more solo projects, and independent work
- Work anywhere if you are willing to move from company to company (rural areas or big cities)
Cons of the GA Shop
- Less job stability long-term because you work for a much smaller company
- No union representation (could be a pro, depending on your point of view)
- Sometimes contract work
- Limited opportunities for growth within the organization
- Limited training provided on the job
- Fewer benefits and no travel perks that are associated with airline jobs
Is Working At an Airline the Right AMT Career For You?
Most people would agree that a successful career means finding a company where you feel at home and where there’s a good “fit.”
For many aircraft mechanics, that fit is at an airline. Others are much more at home working in a small mom-and-pop shop.
Some start small and move into the airlines. Ultimately, it’s a personal journey with no one correct solution.