Airplane mechanics have a critical responsibility to ensure the safety of flight for passengers and pilots of the aircraft they are performing maintenance on. The career of an aircraft mechanic begins with gaining experience and earning certification. The pay scale of a mechanic increases dramatically with experience and education. Higher qualifications, certifications and responsibilities are reflected in higher salaries.
An aircraft mechanic typically earns an hourly wage ranging from $15 as an entry-level mechanic to $36 an hour as a senior mechanic for a major airline. Mechanics that work on jet airliners for a major airline and mechanics who have attended an aviation maintenance school earn higher starting wages. Mechanics who obtained their experience in the military and earned their license through that experience typically earn less than mechanics who attend school.
Aircraft mechanics can receive reduced-fare flights for themselves and their families in addition to typical health and retirement benefits. One-third of aviation mechanics are members of a union, including the Aerospace Workers Union of America or the International Association of Machinists.
Aircraft mechanics perform preventative maintenance and perform inspections on aircraft engines, hydraulic systems, instrumentation, air conditioning and pressurization systems, and other aircraft systems. Their duties also include troubleshooting and repairing equipment as necessary and as described by the pilots who are operating the equipment.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that aircraft mechanics are required to be certified before performing maintenance on aircraft. Airframe and powerplant certificates are the two standard mechanic certificates and companies typically require both before offering employment. Candidates must have 18 months of experience on both aircraft powerplants and airframes before applying for certification. Mechanics who perform maintenance and are not certified are required to be directly supervised by a certified mechanic.
Mechanics can obtain experience either through on-the-job training or through a FAA certified aviation maintenance school. There are more than 170 aviation maintenance technician schools that offer two- and four-year degree programs. These programs will qualify the student and often prepare them for the FAA certification exams.
Mechanics can also obtain experience on the job while performing the duties as an aircraft mechanic, electrician or avionics technician. An FAA inspector must still approve the military experience before the mechanic applies for certification. Military members can also use programs such as the G.I. Bill to pay for a maintenance school, greatly increasing their value to an airline and enabling them to earn a higher salary.
Aircraft mechanics and technicians typically advance into higher positions of responsibility within private companies and airlines or government organizations such as the FAA. Typical advancement includes maintenance management or aircraft inspector. Airplane inspectors earn up to $70,000 per year and maintenance managers earn up to $85,000 per year.