What It Takes to Become an Aircraft Maintenance Professional
By Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
People with a passion for aviation can appreciate how addictive it can be. If you are one of those bitten by the aviation bug, you may find yourself studying an aircraft in flight and imagining how satisfying it would be to defy gravity at its controls. But, under the sleek, polished exterior cruising around the skies lies its heart: the mechanical system that is as dependent on the technicians who service and repair it as it is on the pilots who operate it. Mastering this complex system is an art as old as the Wright Flyer.
Whether you are a pilot with a penchant to go beyond the 31 preventive maintenance items allowed by regulation or someone whose goal is to be dedicated to practicing and advancing the science of aviation maintenance, it is important to know your options and requirements when considering becoming an FAA-certificated aircraft mechanic.
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You may be familiar with the two basic disciplines of an aircraft mechanic certificate: the airframe rating and the powerplant rating (A&P). Each part affords the holder a specific set of privileges and limitations. Here you’ll find everything you need to know to become a mechanic as of this writing: faa.gov/mechanics/become.
For a mechanic certificate with A&P ratings, the FAA also requires you to pass not one, not two, but three separate sets of written, oral, and practical exams. These include one set for each airframe and powerplant rating and another for general knowledge tests. You can choose to obtain a single airframe or powerplant rating; however, most mechanics elect to have both ratings, so they are free to work on either engine or airframe components. See 14 CFR section 65.71 for more on A&P rating eligibility requirements.
Although mechanics can earn A&P certification through training and experience (including military) requirements (18 months for a single rating or 30 months of concurrent experience for both), the most popular option is to graduate from a certificated part 147 Aircraft Maintenance Technician School (AMTS). These schools, which are individually certificated as air agencies, are held to a strict set of standards outlined in their namesake — 14 CFR part 147 — that define everything from training materials and shop equipment to attendance and record-keeping. Some AMT schools, such as New York City’s Aviation High School and others, provide access to internship programs that give students a chance to work in a real-world aviation maintenance environment.
Another option for the mechanically-minded is a repairman certificate. This certificate has less restrictive eligibility requirements but has a much more narrow scope of privileges. Certificated repairmen can only perform maintenance within the scope of their training and specific job duties and be authorized to work under the employment of the repair station (or air carrier) through which they received certification. This means that your repairman certificate is not portable to different employers. One new development for repairmen came with the light-sport aircraft rule, which established a light-sport repairman certificate with two ratings: inspection and maintenance. See 14 CFR part 65, subpart E for more information on repairman certificates.
Keeping the Blade Sharp
So, if you have the “aviation bug” and your idea of aviating is more in tune with using a multimeter and torque wrench than a headset and sectionals, perhaps aircraft maintenance training is for you. The industry will continue to grow and evolve, especially with the rapid introduction of new technologies. But one thing that will not change is a need for quality training and education, which you are sure to find at an AMT school near you. Remember that aircraft maintenance training can also be a springboard for other career options, such as IA (Inspection Authorization), director of maintenance (DOM), aerospace engineer, or chief inspector. The sky is the limit, so what are you waiting for?
Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.