18 Mar 2014

Should You Be an Aircraft Mechanic?



There are many ways to be involved with the exciting world of aviation. If you can’t become a pilot, you can become a mechanic and take care of the machines that make flight possible. In this article, Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology looks at some of the personality traits, skills, and training you’ll need to consider if you want to become an aircraft mechanic.


The Tinker Gene
First, we’ll look at the personality traits you need for success as an airline mechanic. Perhaps the most obvious one is “the tinker gene”—the obsessive need, since childhood, to take things apart to see how they worked, and put them back together again so they worked even better. If you love getting your hands dirty and have a huge collection of mechanical tools, you are probably suited for the workshop life.


In addition to having a burning desire to tinker, you should be:


  • Organized. As an airline mechanic, you’ll be taking part in multiple jobs every day, each with their own set of problems, requirements, and paperwork. Knowing where your tools and forms are will help you maximize your time spent fixing things and minimize your time spent looking for a stray wrench.
  • Responsible. The work you’ll do as an airline mechanic can literally mean life or death to someone. You need to be capable of having this in the front of your mind at all times, so you’ll never be tempted to cut corners. Should something happen to a plane you have worked on owing to your carelessness, it’s you the National Transportation Safety Board will be coming to see.
  • Observant. Good mechanics have an eye for detail and can spot things that are wrong quickly—whether it’s a loose seal or a metal component showing tiny signs of corrosion.
  • Good with your hands. You’ll need physical dexterity in your hands and fingers in order to handle your daily shifts.
  • Physically fit. Working in an aircraft shop requires some level of strength and stamina. You don’t need to be an Ironman Triathlete, but you do need to be capable of climbing, lifting, and balancing for long periods.
  • Methodical. Troubleshooting mechanical problems requires the ability to evaluate a problem, devise solutions, and test them properly.

If you have many of the above traits, aviation maintenance could be the career path for you.

Training for Aviation Maintenance
In addition to having the aptitude for a mechanic’s life, you’ll also need the right training. Choose an FAA-approved college or trade school that will teach you the right blend of theoretical knowledge and hands-on skills. You should take part in:


  • Welding
  • Non-destructive testing methods (ultrasound, dye penetration, etc.)
  • Circuit building and testing
  • Non-metal fabrication

You should also take courses in:

  • Applied sciences (physics and chemistry)
  • Mathematics
  • Aerodynamics
  • Speech and communication (you do a LOT of report writing as a mechanic)

Your ultimate goal is to obtain an FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A & P) certificate. This is gained by completing a diploma or degree program and then taking an oral, written, and practical exam administered by the Federal Aviation Administration.

An A & P is critical for your success as an aircraft mechanic. So, you need to take your training very seriously—even the general education classes you may encounter if you choose a degree program rather than a diploma program. All of the classes you take are designed to make you more marketable, either by teaching you directly applicable skills or by enhancing your creative and critical thinking abilities.

Paperwork Tolerance

Finally, it’s always worth mentioning that aviation is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. The FAA, NTSB, and many other agencies all take a keen interest in the daily operations of airports and aircraft maintenance shops. With all these government agencies involved, it means you’ll be dealing with lots of paperwork and procedures mandated by bureaucrats.
Don’t blow these procedures off. There’s a saying that all of the Federal Aviation Regulations are “written in blood”—meaning that they became necessary after someone died because of a lack of regulation. While the point of a particular reporting procedure may not be readily obvious to you, someone further up the chain may find it very useful indeed. If you can consider the bureaucratic intrusions as part of the cost of getting to do what you love—make airplanes fly—then you have the right mind set for becoming an airline mechanic.