Love airplanes and aircraft, and like to tinker and fix things too? A career as an aviation maintenance technician might be right for you.
Aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) are vital to the aviation industry. They keep aircraft flying with regular inspections, fix them when they’re broken, and work with engineers and designers to make new aircraft a reality.
Here’s a look at some of the specifics of the job and the steps to take if you’re interested in becoming an aviation maintenance technician.
What Do Aviation Technicians Do?
Airplanes are complex machines, and if something can go wrong, it probably will at some point. When it breaks, it’s the job of the aviation technician to put it back together, ensure that it’s safe to fly, meets all the regulations, and return it to service.
Aircraft must meet numerous inspection requirements set by the FAA in order to fly. Every aircraft needs at least an annual inspection, but many require more frequent inspections.
So even if it’s not broken, every aircraft visits the maintenance shop regularly.
Troubleshooting Aircraft Problems
Another component of the aviation technician’s job is troubleshooting and problem-solving. Diagnosing operational issues requires talking with flight crews about observed issues and researching the problem through system designs and technical manuals provided by the manufacturer.
Finally, aviation technicians are responsible for recordkeeping. Aircraft maintenance is meticulously logged and recorded to prove compliance with the regulations.
Airframe and Powerplants
Of course, planes are made of quite a few different components.
Aviation technicians are divided into two branches–airframe and powerplants.
But, as any plane enthusiast will tell you, there’s a ton of diversity within each branch.
Think about the vast array of aircraft types out there.
Does the same technician who works on vintage WWII warbirds also service 787 Dreamliners?
Does the tech who fixes piston training airplanes also work on turbine helicopters? What about those new diesel engines that burn Jet-A, or modern composite airframes?
All of this diversity means plenty of opportunities to expand your career. Like a medical student, you start by learning the fundamentals and then follow the paths that interest you–and the ones that provide the most opportunity.
Specialization in Aviation Maintenance
As you may have noticed from that list of examples, the job opportunities for aviation technicians are constantly growing as technology advances.
Each new technology presents opportunities for training. And the more skills you can collect in your mechanic’s toolbox, the more jobs and money-making opportunities you have available.
Here are some of the responsibilities for each of these specializations:
- Skin-and-frame traditional/vintage airframes
- Conventional aluminum airframes
- Welding, machining, and fabrication
- New technologies like composites (fiberglass and carbon fiber)
- Types of aircraft, like airplanes, gliders, rotorcraft, or lighter-than-air
- Small aircraft, corporate aircraft, airliners
- Any of the numerous systems and components included in airframes, like environmental systems, flight controls, landing gear, electrical, or hydraulic systems
- Piston engines
- Vintage technologies like radial engines
- New piston technologies, like diesel engines
- Turbine/jet engines
- Airplanes vs. rotorcraft
- Traditional “steam gauges”
- Navigation systems, from small training aircraft to large aircraft FMS systems
- Next-generation satellite technologies
- Glass cockpits
- Retrofitting older airframes with new technologies
- Note: Many avionics techs are also airframe technicians
AMT Job Requirements
Aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) are licensed by the FAA, just like pilots, air traffic controllers, airports, and airlines.
The aviation technician certificate has two possible ratings, airframe and powerplant. Many technicians opt to do both, which is why the certificate is commonly referred to as the “A&P Certificate.”
Here’s a list, from the FAA, of what you must have to be eligible for an Aviation technician certificate.
- Be at least 18 years old and be able to read, write, and understand English.
- Get on-the-job training or go to school–You’ll have to have at least 18 months of practical experience appropriate to the rating sought, or 30 months of practical experience performing the duties appropriate to both airframe and powerplant ratings, or be a graduate of an FAA-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School (AMTS)
- Be familiar with Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Part 65 Subpart D (Mechanics)
- Pass two (or three) written exams–1) General knowledge test, 2) Airframe, 3) Powerplant.
- Pass an oral and practical exam given by an FAA Designated Mechanic Examiner (DME)
The FAA also licenses technicians with the IA (Inspection Authorization). This certificate is available to existing AMT certificate holders who have been actively maintaining aircraft for several years.
The IA is a senior technician who oversees the work of other techs and is authorized to sign off certain major inspections. Check out the Thrust Institute’s website for more information on inspection authorization training.
How To Get a Job as Aircraft Maintenance Technician
The path to becoming an AMT is easier than it sounds. Traditionally, it’s based on the age-old model of apprenticeship.
One way you can start is by applying for apprenticeship-style, entry-level positions at repair stations.
Apprentice positions may be harder to come by these days, of course. And, as with any entry-level job, these positions pay less and are more subject to market instabilities.
They’ll also require you to put in more than a year of work before you can apply for your A&P–the FAA requires 18 months for a single rating or 30 months for both.
Enrolling in an AMTS program provides an immediate, stable career path.
Being a graduate of an AMTS gives you a leg up on the competition, allowing you to enter the job market with the credentials in hand. Having the certificates in your pocket means you are a serious candidate ready to go to work.
Where Do Aviation Technicians Work?
AMTs have highly transferable skills that are in demand throughout the industry. The aviation world is much larger than many people realize, with hundreds or thousands of workers connected to even the smallest general aviation airports. For example, airlines and major repair stations employ thousands of employees in their maintenance departments alone.
Large Maintenance Operations
Most larger operators maintain a maintenance department to keep their aircraft up to snuff and to have more control over their costs and scheduling.
For example, almost all airlines have maintenance departments that continually complete rolling progressive checks on their aircraft.
The same applies to large corporate flight departments, charter companies, and even flight schools.
Next up, many airports have repair stations operating on the field.
These are maintenance shops that are available to any aircraft owner.
Repair stations are licensed by the FAA and are commonly called Maintenance and Repair Organizations (MROs).
Many specialize in a make or type of aircraft, based on the skills available on the staff.
Many repair stations also specialize in products or services, such as avionics installs or aircraft painting.
Aircraft manufacturers also employ maintenance technicians to repair and maintain their fleets and help customers with their new planes.
They’re also responsible for putting together training and reference materials for new designs for technicians to use worldwide.
Large aircraft dealers also often operate repair stations for the makes of aircraft that they sell.
Fixed Base Operators
Many fixed based operators (FBOs) at airports may also have a technician on staff, particularly in instances where no repair station is on the field.
These smaller shops could be likened to independent auto mechanics working out of the local gas station.
For pilots visiting the field on their way through, they’re a vital source of knowledge and skill for when things break unexpectedly.
Finally, AMTs may work independently.
For example, in general aviation (GA), a licensed AMT may have a set of clients they work with, from local private aircraft owners to small charter operators and flight schools.
Is a Career as an AMT Right for You?
If you like challenges, problem-solving technical issues, and working with cutting-edge technology, a career in aviation maintenance is worth a look.