How Long Does it Take to Become an Aircraft Mechanic?

How Long Does it Take to Become an Aircraft Mechanic?

Becoming an aircraft mechanic is an exciting career path that allows you to work hands-on with airplanes and helicopter systems. Aircraft mechanics are responsible for maintaining and repairing aircraft engines, hydraulic systems, and various other components. It’s a job that requires mechanical aptitude, troubleshooting skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work well as part of a team. If you’re interested in aviation and enjoy technical, hands-on work, then becoming an aircraft mechanic may be a great choice for you.

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Educational Requirements

The first step to becoming an aircraft mechanic is completing the proper education and training. There are two main paths to getting your aircraft mechanic certification:

FAA Part 147 Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools

The most common route is to attend an Aviation Maintenance Technician School certified under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 147 program. These schools offer 18-24 month long programs that combine classroom instruction with hands-on training. Topics covered include electricity, aircraft drawings, mechanics, avionics, hydraulics, and more. At the end of the program, you’ll take certification exams for your Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) ratings.

The major benefits of Part 147 schools are that they allow you to become certified more quickly, offer structured programs, and ensure you learn all the skills needed to pass the A&P exams. The downside is that they can be more expensive than other options, often $10,000-$20,000 for tuition.

FAA Part 65: Military and On-the-Job Training

The other path to becoming a certified aircraft mechanic is through military aviation maintenance training or through on-the-job experience at a repair station. Veterans with military aircraft mechanical training can qualify to take the A&P certification tests after 30 months of relevant experience. Non-veterans can qualify after 48 months of full-time on-the-job training and experience.

While this route takes longer to become certified, it allows you to earn money and gain experience while you work. You’ll need to be diligent about logging your OJT hours and learning all the required subject areas to qualify for and pass the A&P exams. Using this method, you can get your certifications without any formal classroom time.

No matter which educational path you take, you’ll need to pass the Airframe and Powerplant written, oral, and practical exams through the FAA. The written tests cover major subject areas like maintenance techniques, communications, hydraulics, electrical systems, and engines. The oral and practical exams demonstrate your hands-on skills. Once you pass all certification tests, you’ll be issued your A&P license.

How Long Does Training Take?

So how long does it actually take to become an FAA certified aircraft mechanic through these different paths?

  • For Part 147 aviation maintenance schools, plan on 18-24 months from start to finish. Programs are usually 6 quarters or 4 semesters long.
  • For military-trained mechanics, it typically takes 30 months of experience before you can qualify to take the A&P exams.
  • Non-vets following the on-the-job Part 65 training path need 48 months of full-time relevant maintenance experience before certification testing.

Keep in mind that the certification tests themselves take time too. Many mechanics report spending 50-100 hours just studying and prepping for the three A&P exams. So build in an additional few months to take and pass the required tests after finishing your program or experience requirements.

The fastest route is through an intensive Part 147 program. But hands-on OJT experience combined with diligent self-study works too. Just be prepared for the process to take about 4 years if you go the OJT route.

Other Licenses and Certifications

In addition to your FAA A&P certification, there are several other licenses and training programs available that can enhance your skills and make you a more attractive aircraft mechanic candidate:

  • Airframe Rating – To work on aircraft fuselages, wings, hydraulics, and cabin systems, you need the Airframe rating. This requires passing just the Airframe written, oral, and practical certification exams.
  • Powerplant Rating – To work on aircraft engines, propellers, and fuel systems, you need the Powerplant rating. This requires passing the Powerplant exams only.
  • Inspection Authorization (IA) – This advanced certification allows you to approve aircraft for return to service after repairs and inspections. Getting your IA involves passing a difficult exam and having at least 5 years of experience.
  • Manufacturer-specific training – Many aircraft mechanics get additional OEM factory training to become authorized on specific makes and models. For example, getting certified on Boeing or Airbus aircraft.
  • Avionics training – Mechanics who want to work on aircraft radios, radar, GPS, and electrical systems often take avionics training classes to enhance their skills.
  • ALS certification – Some employers require ALS (Aircraft Light Sport) certification to work on light sport and experimental aircraft.

Pursuing these extra certifications and training will make you a more versatile mechanic and can lead to higher paying specializations. Putting in the extra time upfront can really pay dividends later in your aviation career.

Finding a Job as an Aircraft Mechanic

Once you complete your aircraft mechanic education and A&P certification, you’ll be ready to start applying for jobs. These days, the job market for aircraft mechanics is quite strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of aircraft mechanic jobs is projected to grow 7% between 2020-2030, adding about 13,800 jobs. Openings will be driven by the increasing need for maintenance and repair as the commercial fleet ages and air travel continues to grow globally.

Aircraft mechanics are employed at a wide range of companies and organizations:

  • Airlines and air transport companies
  • Corporate flight departments
  • Repair stations and MRO (maintenance, repair, overhaul) facilities
  • Aircraft, engine, and parts manufacturing plants
  • Government agencies and the military
  • General aviation operators like charter companies, airports, and FBOs

When looking for your first aircraft mechanic job, it’s a good strategy to cast a wide net and apply to as many employers as possible. Be willing to relocate for the best opportunities. Getting that initial experience is critical so you can advance your skills and start moving up the pay scale.

Many new mechanics start by applying for line maintenance technician and mechanic helper jobs at airports or MROs. These entry-level roles allow you to gain hands-on experience and learn the ropes under the guidance of senior mechanics. Once you build know-how, you can then transition into higher level repair station, lead, or supervisory roles.

With an A&P license, strong work ethic, and good attitude, there are abundant opportunities out there for newly certified aircraft mechanics. You just have to be persistent and keep applying until you land that all-important first job. Maintaining your skills, pursuing additional certifications, and networking with others in the field will help you move up through the ranks to more senior, specialized mechanic positions over time.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for aircraft mechanics in the United States is $69,040. Salaries typically range from $45,000 to $100,000+ per year, depending on your experience and certifications.

Here are some salary averages for common aircraft mechanic job types:

  • Line service technician – $45,000
  • Junior mechanic – $55,000
  • Licensed mechanic – $75,000
  • Lead technician – $78,000
  • Inspector – $85,000
  • Senior technician – $98,000
  • Shop supervisor – $105,000

Besides good earning potential right off the bat, aircraft mechanics also benefit from excellent long-term career growth. As mentioned earlier, the job market is growing steadily as more mechanics are needed to service today’s aircraft fleets. And senior-level roles like inspectors, lead technicians, supervisors, and managers are all options later in your career. With each year of experience, you become more valuable.

Your salary will depend on factors like:

  • Employer (airlines pay the most)
  • Location
  • Certifications held
  • Scope of responsibilities
  • Years of experience

But overall, aircraft mechanics are in high demand and earn solid middle-class wages after graduating from training school or completing OJT. It’s a stable, engaging career with increasing opportunities across the aviation industry.

Key Takeaways: Becoming an Aircraft Mechanic

Here are some key points to remember about the how long it takes to become an aircraft mechanic:

  • Complete either an FAA Part 147 AMT program (18-24 months) or military/civilian on-the-job training (30-48 months).
  • Pass your Airframe and Powerplant written, oral, and practical certification exams.
  • Obtain any additional type ratings or certifications sought by employers.
  • Be prepared for the training process to take around 4 years total.
  • Cast a wide net and be willing to relocate when applying for your first aircraft mechanic job.
  • Entry-level roles help you gain fundamental experience under seasoned mechanics.
  • Continuing education and certifications will open doors to higher level specialties and leadership roles.
  • Aircraft mechanics earn an average annual salary of $69,040, with potential for growth over time.

If you have a mechanical aptitude and a passion for aviation, becoming an aircraft technician can be a challenging but rewarding way to begin a stable, engaging career. With dedication and hard work, you can go from aviation maintenance school to certified mechanic in just a few years. It’s an exciting field with great job prospects now and for decades to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a college degree to become an aircraft mechanic?

No, you do not need a college degree to become an FAA certified aircraft mechanic. The two pathways are either completing an FAA Part 147 aviation maintenance program or gaining enough qualifying OJT experience (48 months for non-veterans). Then you must pass the certification exams.

How much does aircraft mechanic school cost?

Tuition for an 18-24 month FAA-approved Part 147 aircraft mechanic school ranges from about $10,000 to $20,000. There may be additional costs for tools, textbooks, certification exams, and other fees.

What are the basic job duties of an aircraft mechanic?

Aircraft mechanic job duties include routine maintenance, scheduled repairs, overhauls, troubleshooting issues, structural inspections, record-keeping, and replacing worn or defective parts. Experienced mechanics may specialize in engines, avionics, hydraulic systems, or other complex components.

What kind of schedule do aircraft mechanics work?

Most aircraft mechanics work full-time, which is typically 40 hours per week. Overtime may be required to handle workload during busy periods. Weekend, evening, overnight, or on-call shifts are sometimes needed depending on employer. Line maintenance techs may have split shifts since they work when aircraft are at the gate.

Can you become an aircraft mechanic with a criminal record?

It may be challenging to become an aircraft mechanic with a criminal record, especially felonies. Most employers and the FAA will perform a background check and may restrict licensing for convictions like fraud, theft, substance abuse, and other offenses.

What is the job outlook for aircraft mechanics?

Employment for aircraft mechanics and service technicians is projected to grow 7 percent between 2020-2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities are increasing as more mechanics are needed to handle maintenance and repairs for growing airline fleets.

Can you work on planes without a license?

No, you cannot legally work as an aircraft mechanic on civil aviation aircraft without an FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) license. Some basic maintenance may be allowable, but nearly all hands-on aircraft repair and service requires current A&P certification.

Is an A&P license worth it?

Yes, an A&P aircraft mechanic’s license is absolutely worth obtaining if you want to work on aircraft. It is required for most aviation maintenance jobs and allows you to have a stable career maintaining and repairing airplanes and helicopters. An A&P license proves you have the skills and training needed for aircraft repair duties.

Do aircraft mechanics fly?

Aircraft mechanics themselves do not typically fly planes as part of their regular job duties. But many mechanics are required to taxi aircraft on ground and functionally test them post-maintenance. More senior mechanics may occasionally fly on operational check flights after repairs, but pilots perform most of the flying.

How physically demanding is working as an aircraft mechanic?

Aircraft mechanics need to have good physical stamina and mobility to handle the job’s demands. You may have to lift heavy equipment, crouch in tight spaces, work on high ladders and multi-level platforms, and spend long periods on your feet. Good balance, vision, hearing, and dexterity are also required.