Aircraft mechanics are the backbone of the aerospace industry, making sure that all aircraft are in proper working order and safe for both passengers and pilots. Since you can’t just pull a passenger jet over to the side of the road if something goes wrong, it is critical that those charged with maintaining these complex machines adhere to the highest standards.
To become an aircraft mechanic (the more proper term being Aviation Maintenance Technician) you need to meet certain minimum requirements.
The Different Types of Aircraft Mechanics
Prior to embarking on your journey to become an aircraft mechanic, you should determine the pathway you would like to take in your career. There are four different types of aircraft mechanics, with A&P mechanics being the most common:
Airframe Mechanics – These aircraft mechanics are certified to work on everything but engines, propellers, and avionics. They focus on looking for cracks and damage to the body of the aircraft, as well as replacing broken or worn parts.
Powerplant Mechanics – These mechanics focus on the engines of the aircraft.
A&P Mechanics – Qualified to work on both airframes and powerplants. Having both qualifications is a good idea prior to entering the job market, as most employers are looking for candidates with a broad range of skills.
Avionics Technicians – These aircraft mechanics work on the electronic systems of the aircraft, such as panel instruments, radios, and autopilot systems. Learn about getting your AET certification here.
Basic FAA Aircraft Mechanic Requirements
There are four basic requirements that you will need to meet to obtain your aircraft mechanic’s certificate.
- You have to be at least 18 years old.
- You have to be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English Language.
- You have to have at least 18 months of practical experience with either powerplants or airframes or 30 months of practical experience working on both at the same time. If you don’t have or can’t get that practical hands on experience, you can attend an FAA-approved aircraft mechanic school.
- You have to pass three types of tests:
- A written examination
- An oral test
- A practical test
How to Meet the Aircraft Mechanic Experience Requirement
There are three pathways to getting the experience you need to qualify for taking the aircraft mechanic exams.
1. You can attend a FAR part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician School. You’ll need a high school diploma or GED to attend. Programs at these schools are typically one to two years. Graduation will qualify you to take the FAA exams. According to the FAA, graduates from one of these schools have a higher average starting salary than those that take another path.
2. Work at an FAA repair station or FBO under the supervision of a certified mechanic. You’ll need 18 months each for powerplants and airframes, or 30 months for both. Your experience will have to be documented using pay receipts and a logbook signed by your supervising mechanic, or other proof that you worked the required amount of time.
3. Get training in the military. You will need to ensure that you are in a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) for which the FAA gives credit. You can get a list of acceptable specialties from your local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). You must present an official letter from your military employer certifying your length of service, the amount of time you worked in each specialty, the make and model of the aircraft or engine on which you got practical experience, and where you got the experience. You cannot count the time you spent training for the specialty, only the time you spent working in the specialty.
The Required Aircraft Mechanic Tests
You will have to take three tests to obtain your mechanic certification: An oral test, a practical test, and a written examination.
A Designated Mechanic Examiner (DME) gives you the oral and practical tests. You can get a list of examiners from your local FAA office. Generally, the test for one certificate (airframe or powerplant) takes about eight hours. You can learn more about the practical test standards for the General, Airframe and Powerplant exams on the FAA website.
To apply to take the written test, you’ll need to take your proof of experience to an FAA inspector at your local FAA office. If the inspector determines that you meet the requirements to sit for the exam, you can make an appointment for testing at a PSI Services Knowledge Testing Center (you can also get practice exams on their website).
If you fail any part of a test, you’ll have to wait thirty days before you can retake it, unless you give a letter to the trainer showing that you have received additional training in the areas that you failed.
All tests must be passed within a 24 month period.