The need for aviation maintenance technicians is growing, and the skill set is expanding. You might be surprised by what direction the field is heading and where you can go, once you have the degree.
Job Description: An aviation maintenance technician (AMT) maintains, services, repairs and overhauls the airframe, powerplant, avionics and aircraft instruments. As an aviation maintenance technician you may work on aircraft from single engine pistons to airliners for employers ranging from small Part 145 repair stations and large maintenance, repair and operations to aircraft manufacturers, corporate flight departments and airlines. “We like to think of ourselves as the guardians of airworthiness,” Ronald Donner, chief editor of Aircraft Maintenance Technology magazine and executive director of the AMT Society, says. “Pilots cannot fly an airplane until we as mechanics say it’s ready to go, and that’s a huge responsibility.”
Job Requirements: Most employers seek FAA certificated aviation maintenance technicians authorized to work on both airframe and powerplant. Avionics knowledge is also highly prized. “Students that have the best employment opportunities have both an airframe and powerplant and avionics training,” Charles Horning, department chairman for the Aviation Maintenance Science Degree program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), says.
Getting Training: Some 170 educational institutions offer FAA-approved Part 147 training programs qualifying graduates to take the FAA airframe and powerplant examinations. Basic airframe and powerplant training is a two-year program, but some institutions, such as ERAU, also offer four-year bachelors degrees in the field. (The Aviation Technician Education Council has information on accredited programs.) Mechanics who gain workplace experience in the private sector or in the military may also qualify to take the airframe and powerplant exams to become an aviation maintenance technician.
Employment Opportunities: About 50,000 mechanics in the United States are employed by scheduled airlines and about 37,000 work in general aviation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The U.S. government also hires mechanics to maintain military aircraft domestically and overseas. Globally, airlines employ some 473,000 aircraft mechanics according to the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.
Salaries: Salaries for graduates of Part 147 programs typically start in the high $30s to mid-$40,000 range. The median annual salary for airframe and powerplant mechanics was more than $55,000 in 2012 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Future Career Prospects: “The industry is currently having difficulty finding qualified AMTs,” and demand is expected to remain high, says a National Air Transportation Association spokesperson. Boeing’s Current Market Outlook 2014-2033 projects a need for 584,000 AMTs for the airline industry alone over the next 20 years. Experience in advanced composite structures and digital avionics will be particularly valuable. Given the increasing sophistication of required skills, Horning tells students “they may feel more like computer technicians than aircraft technicians.” If you want to be an aviation maintenance technician, now is the time.
Job Benefits: Aviation maintenance technicians often have scheduling flexibility and, if working for an airline, access to free flights for themselves and their families. airframe and powerplant certification is also an excellent springboard to other aviation careers. “Whether it takes you to a flying career, management, or engineering, there’s a lot of paths you can choose once you’re in the industry,” Donner says.
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