What Does an Aircraft Mechanic Do?
What Does an Aircraft Mechanic Do?
Aircraft mechanics supervise, manage, perform maintenance, inspections, and repairs on aircraft. It is their top priority ensure aircraft safety and airworthiness for passenger travel, air cargo and shipping, and much more! Highly-trained and federally-certified, aircraft mechanics are commonly referred to as airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanics or aviation maintenance technicians.
To work on aircraft, individuals must undergo rigorous training and testing to become A&P certified – obtaining the licenses required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform aviation maintenance. A&P ratings are vital for a career foundation as an aircraft mechanic. They are often required for other career pathways or advancement opportunities as well.
Still want to know more about what aircraft mechanics do? This article discusses the ins and outs of being an aviation maintenance technician, the day-to-day job duties, career paths, specializations, and advancement opportunities in the aviation industry. Additionally, you’ll learn the fastest way to get your A&P ratings and get out on the job!
The Ins and Outs: Inspecting Aircraft, Repairs, and Scheduled Maintenance
Before performing repairs or maintenance, aircraft mechanics first inspect for damage or imperfections. Inspection procedures include testing aircraft parts with diagnostic equipment, reviewing completed work to ensure that it meets performance standards, and examining replacement parts for defects.
Once inspections are complete, mechanics may have to perform repairs or unscheduled maintenance. Mechanics often repair wings, brakes, electrical systems, engines, the body, and other aircraft components using hand tools, power tools, and other industry-specific equipment.
Mechanics also perform preventative care, or scheduled maintenance, at regular intervals. The time between maintenance checks could be hours flown, days since the last inspection, amounts of flights, or a combination of these factors. Types of scheduled maintenance checks include line maintenance, ‘A’ checks, ‘B’ checks, ‘C’ checks, and ‘D’ checks. A part of scheduled maintenance includes inspections and may require unscheduled repairs.
Line maintenance checks are the most routine maintenance service performed on aircraft. They ensure an aircraft is airworthy and safe to continue service. Tasks include inspecting the wheels, brakes, and fluid levels (oil, hydraulics). Aircraft need line maintenance every 24 to 60 hours of accumulated flight time, depending on the aircraft operator assessment.
‘A’ checks occur every 400-600 flight hours, or 200–300 flights, depending on aircraft type. Sometimes, mechanics conduct this maintenance overnight as not to interrupt the schedule that airlines keep. ‘A’ checks can take a minimum of 10 working hours, depending on the services needed. Care often covers general inspections of the interior and the aircraft hull for evidence of damage, deformation, corrosion, missing parts. Other checks include servicing the engine, emergency lights, lubricating nose gear retract actuator, and the parking brake accumulator pressure.
‘B’ checks take place approximately every 6-8 months. They take about 160-180 labor hours and can require 1–3 days at an airport hangar. Tasks may include:
- Checking alignment
- Torqueing of the nose landing gear spotlight
- Inspecting the wheel well hydraulic tubing for condition, corrosion, and fluid leakage
‘C’ checks are considered “heavy maintenance,” which can include significant teardown of parts of the aircraft and requires an aviation maintenance technician to perform an in-depth inspection before safely reassembling areas that have been serviced. They can often take the vehicle out of service for 1–2 weeks and up to 6,000 maintenance hours. Maintenance and inspection tasks could include:
- An examination of the body, wings, and functions for corrosion and damage
- Checking the operation of the DC bus tie control and in-depth lubrication of all fittings and cables.
‘D’ checks are also considered heavy maintenance and occur every 6-10 years. This type of check is a comprehensive inspection and repair of the entire aircraft. ‘D’ checks require taking apart the whole body to inspect for damage and corrosion. The process can take upwards of 30,000 to 50,000 labor hours over 4-6 weeks. Mechanics may also refurbish or upgrade the aircraft interior while the entire aircraft is disassembled.
When asking yourself: what does an aviation mechanic do? You have to consider the day-to-day! In addition to daily maintenance tasks, aviation mechanics are responsible for keeping organized records of their activities and tools.
Reporting and Record-Keeping
Keeping clear and accurate records, or aircraft logs, is a crucial part of an aircraft mechanic’s day-to-day responsibilities. In the case of a catastrophic event or accident, records must stand in a court of law.
Aircraft logs include all data concerning inspections, tasks, maintenance, and repairs performed. Logs are used to determine the aircraft condition, date of examinations, time on airframe, engines, and aircraft systems. It reflects a history of all events occurring to the aircraft, its components, and accessories. Aircraft logs also indicate compliance with FAA airworthiness directives (AD) or manufacturers’ service bulletins (SB).
The more comprehensive the logbook, the easier it is to understand the aircraft’s maintenance history. A&P mechanics must take special care to ensure that anyone needing to review the logs can clearly understand the entries.
Tool organization is another daily responsibility of a mechanic. It’s essential to the timeliness of operations to account for all tools and equipment.
In large operations like commercial hangars or manufacturing companies, there is usually a tool department, or “tool crib,” where mechanics go through a process to check-out and return borrowed tools. In smaller operations, mechanics typically own their toolbox with the essential tools, and the company will provide any other specialized tools and equipment needed.
Going Above and Beyond
Depending on your long-term goals, you may find yourself doing a range of duties. Want to rise to higher positions with more responsibilities? You must be willing to assist your team and contribute to daily operations’ success, regardless of the task level or type. No task is too small to show your commitment to your position, employer, and personal growth.
Career Pathways and Advancement Opportunities for Aircraft Mechanics
Aviation maintenance is an industry of robust career options. Mechanics may choose to specialize in a skillset, own a maintenance business, or gain experience and additional certifications to grow within a company or an area in the field. The below topics will cover career progression and specialist opportunities in general aviation (GA) and commercial air transport (CAT) categories—though remember there are several other available pathways depending on your interests.
Specializing in a Maintenance Skill
As mechanics encounter various maintenance and repair jobs, they may find that they enjoy performing particular tasks. Mechanics can hone their craft and become specialists in airframe, powerplant, or avionics systems. Mechanics can also combine their A&P ratings with other certifications in HVAC systems, welding, or non-destructive inspections to perform work in these areas. Specializing also presents the opportunity to start a privately-owned business, or even hold a specific position or oversee a department within a maintenance operation.
Another option is to become an aviation investigator. The National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. government investigation agency for civil transportation including, aviation, highway, marine, pipeline, and railroad accidents. The NTSB investigators review the scene of an incident and work with police and reconstructionist to determine the cause and other crucial details. Duties include damage assessment, understanding human performance, checking equipment involved, and reporting observations and conclusions.
To become an NTSB Aviation Investigator, applicants must have:
- High school diploma or GED certificate
- A&P ratings or other aviation certifications
- Preferred experience in law enforcement, private investigation, or claims adjusting
- CPR and first aid certifications
General Aviation Pathways
GA represents all civil aviation operations, including:
- General business aircraft, sport aircraft, helicopters, flight training, and aircraft homebuilding
- Specialized operations like agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, advertising, observation, and patrol
Available advancement opportunities for maintenance professionals in GA companies will depend on the number of employees and the operation’s size. Aircraft mechanics or avionics technicians typically start at entry-level positions where they perform maintenance tasks alongside other team members. A supervisor or lead mechanic would oversee their work.
Lead mechanics/technicians, or leads, are very reliable and consistently provide quality work. They often serve as mentors to other inexperienced aircraft mechanics and technicians and lead their maintenance team through assigned tasks.
With time, a lead may then have the opportunity to progress into supervisor and management roles, overseeing the aircraft maintenance crews. As supervisors gain enough experience managing crews and projects, they may qualify for a director of maintenance position to manage the day-to-day hangar operations.
Experienced mechanics may also qualify to test and earn additional certifications to progress into the positions listed below.
Inspection authorizations (IA) perform the required annual inspections for aircraft and are typically the director of maintenance. Mechanics who only have their A&P ratings can perform up to 100-hour inspections but need this additional certification to perform more progressive checks.
To become an IA, maintenance professionals must have:
- A&P ratings for three years
- 2 years of active experience before applying to test
- A fixed base of operations, whether privately owned business or working for a company with a need
- The appropriate equipment, facilities, and inspection data to properly inspect aircraft
- To apply, mechanics must attend an annual seminar and take a test
Designated airworthiness representatives (DAR-T) are private individuals appointed by the FAA to enforce safety regulations for aircraft home-builds. DARs may be limited to their functions authorized by the FAA, which depends on their level of experience and technical background. Their work usually consists of:
- Performing examinations, inspections, and testing services
- Issuing airworthiness certificates for special flight permits, import aircraft
- Issuing export certificates for products and articles
- Providing conformity inspections and field approvals for repair and alterations
The range of qualifications to become a DAR depend on the type of aircraft you will inspect.
Designated mechanic examiners (DME) are also private individuals appointed by the FAA. DME’s oversee testing and issue certificates to people involved in aircraft operation or aircraft maintenance, such as pilots and mechanics. Once a student is ready to test for their A&P ratings, they must take their oral and practical examsoverseen by the DME.
To obtain your DME License, you must:
- Have your A&P ratings for 5 years
- Be an active inspection authorization
- Prove there is a need in the area
- Receive continuous training
Commercial Air Transport Pathways
Commercial air transport (CAT) is quite different from general aviation. CAT includes aircraft’s scheduled operation to transport passengers, cargo, or mail for profit or value. Operations include commercial airlines, delivery companies, military freight, and passenger transport. These operations utilize strict flight schedules and aim to maximize profitability.
In the CAT operations, there is generally a distinction between maintenance operations and quality control. While these are separate departments, they work together to ensure all work is complete and the aircraft’s airworthiness. Once mechanics have gained experience as lead technicians, they can choose to continue gaining experience in aircraft maintenance or decide to take the inspection route to become inspectors. While Lead Mechanics and Inspectors are considered to be at the same rank, they are separate CAT pathways.
Climbing the Maintenance Ladder
The first advancement opportunity for an aircraft mechanic is to become a lead mechanic or lead.
Depending on the size of the operation, Leads may manage 5-10 mechanics during a shift. Suppose leads choose to continue their career in aircraft maintenance. In that case, they could supervise other leads, manage the maintenance production, and grow into higher positions managing and directing the maintenance operations.
Shift managers or supervisors advance from their positions as lead mechanics to oversee one aircraft or a group of airplanes and the maintenance crew during a shift. The number of crew members will depend on the operation’s size, but supervisors will typically manage 3-4 lead mechanics. The next promotion opportunity is to become a production manager.
Production managers (PM) typically manage 2-3 supervisors and oversee the repair, maintenance, installations, or manufacturing of airframe, powerplant, and aircraft systems. PMs are the point of contact for the company representative or owner of the aircraft receiving services. When they receive a new project or contract, their job is to review the requested orders, prioritize the work based on their knowledge and experience. Additionally, they work with the quality control inspectors to get feedback and information on maintenance discrepancies that need to be addressed and delegated to the maintenance crew. PMs will report to the base manager.
The base manager (BM) is in charge of the entire maintenance department. Depending on the organization’s size, the BM may also be the director of maintenance (DM) at the main home station.
The DM oversees 2-3 other BMs, reports to the vice president, and is the point of contact for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is the DMs responsibility to be aware of and control all operations at every station.
To be eligible for any of these management positions doesn’t happen overnight! Succeeding in getting them often takes a willingness to learn all there is to know, do any job or task, and work hard in every step of your career journey. Good managers know how to do lower-level positions because they have gained that experience, which can take years. At higher-level positions, candidates must have a solid history of managing people, and some companies may require a 4-year degree. It is essential to have a strong ability to read people to know how to place them where they have the right responsibilities for their strengths.
Choosing the Inspection and Quality Control Route
For an aircraft mechanic to qualify for an inspector position will depend on the requirements of the organization. It is typical for lead mechanics to be selected based on seniority and experience in a union-based company. In other companies, they can have their own set of eligibility requirements. Mechanics who are chosen for the job will go through additional training.
An inspector’s career progression could lead to supervising other inspectors, managing the supervisor team, or even to the highest role in quality control of directing the entire inspection operations.
Inspectors review the aircraft, performed maintenance, and report discrepancies that need to be addressed by the maintenance department. Depending on how critical the repair is, inspectors may need to be present for the entire maintenance process.
Inspection supervisors (IS) manage 2-6 inspectors depending on their shift and oversee their crew’s inspections and reporting. There are 2-3 ISs within an organization, one for each shift throughout the day.
Quality control managers (QC) oversee all Inspection supervisors and perform the required annual aircraft inspections and examinations. To become a QC, maintenance professionals must have several years of experience. They may also seek additional training in non-destructive testing and other available training. Once QCs have gained enough experience, they may progress to the director of quality control (DQC). The DQC communicates with the director of maintenance and is another point of contact for the FAA.
The QC department serves as the checks and balances system for the maintenance operations. They work to support the maintenance operations to ensure the job is safely done within compliance and confirm the aircraft’s airworthiness!
Ready to Start Your Career as an Aviation Mechanic?
Now that you know what aviation mechanics do, you might be ready to pursue a career pathway. When getting started, the most important thing to remember is that aviation mechanics must have A&P ratings to work on aircraft. To obtain these ratings, you are required to show aptitude by completing your written, oral, and practical examinations in the following subjects:
- General topics cover basic science and regulations
- Airframe subjects include aircraft construction, systems, and operations
- Powerplant subjects include engine theory, construction, and operations
That is a total of nine exams! Once the testing process starts, you have 24 months to complete the required exams to receive your ratings. The FAA will then issue you a certificate, officially declaring you can work as an aviation maintenance technician.
An effective and efficient way to train and prepare for your exams is to attend an FAA-approved, part -147 school like National Aviation Academy (NAA).
At NAA, you have accelerated training options, will gain practical hands-on experience, receive tutoring, testing, and career placement services all in one place. Additionally, students test as they progress through the coursework and projects instead of taking all nine exams at once.
Our 14-month Aviation Maintenance Technology program is the fastest option for getting A&P certified at NAA. Training is hands-on and focuses on developing skills for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining the aircraft body and engines.
Our 21-month Aviation Maintenance Professional program prepares you for your federal airframe and powerplant licenses and avionics certificates. Having all three credentials means you can service the body, engines, and advanced aircraft technologies, offering the opportunity to increase your value as a mechanic!
Interested in more information on how to get your career as an aircraft mechanic started? Fill out the form below!
Ready to start your career as an aviation maintenance professional? Fill out the form below for more information!