Be an Airframe and Power Plant Technician: Career Roadmap

Explore the requirements to become an airframe and power plant technician. Learn about the job description, and review the step-by-step process for starting a career in airframe and power plant technology. View article »

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  • 0:05 Job Duties & Skills
  • 0:46 Career Info & Salary
  • 1:58 Step 1: FAA-Approved Program
  • 3:23 Step 2: Experience
  • 3:47 Step 3: FAA Exams
  • 5:04 Step 4: Advancement

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Video Transcript

Job Duties and Skills

Airframe and power plant technicians, also called aircraft mechanics, use hand and power tools and sophisticated testing equipment to repair and maintain all parts of commercial or military aircrafts. Technicians can specialize in inspections, repair, maintenance, or specific types of aircraft.

Airframe and power plant technicians must be attentive to detail and manually dexterous and have good troubleshooting skills. They should also know how to use industry-specific computer software and equipment, such as aircraft log manager and supply system software, wearable computing devices, metal cutters, brass punches, and straight cut aviation snips.

Career Info & Salary

Airframe and power plant technicians work on planes in hangars, on airfields, and in repair stations. They usually work full-time in eight-hour shifts; some evening and weekend hours may be required. Airframe and power plant work can be stressful because technicians have to work quickly to prevent flight delays while ensuring that accidents don't take place. As technicians have to perform heavy manual labor in constrained areas and on tall scaffolds, they must be comfortable with heights, small spaces, and unusual body positions. There is a risk of personal injury as technicians must lift heavy objects, work with dangerous tools, and may need to handle hazardous materials. Loud noises are common during the workday. Airframe and power plant technicians reported a higher than average level of illness and work-related injuries when compared to other occupations. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that aircraft mechanics and service technicians earned an average annual salary of $60,160. Opportunities for employment are expected to show minimal to no change between 2014 and 2024.

Career at a Glance

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field Aviation maintenance management, aviation technology, or similar program
Certification Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification is required
Experience 30 months' experience required for certification without education; advancement may be commensurate with experience
Key Skills Troubleshooting skills; agility, attention to detail, and manual dexterity; ability to use industry-specific software, like supply system and computerized aircraft log manager software; knowledge of industry-specific technical instruments, such as wearable computing devices, metal cutters, brass punches, and straight cut aviation snips
Average Salary (2015) $60,160 yearly (for all aircraft mechanics and service technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: FAA-Approved Program

Airframe and power plant technicians need an associate's or a bachelor's degree in aviation maintenance management, aviation technology, or a similar field. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a list of approved programs, many of which offer separate programs in airframe and power plant maintenance areas. Some schools offer a combined program resulting in an airframe and power plant (A&P) certification. Others offer 2-year associate's degree programs, which include a general education core in addition to A&P certification courses.

Airframe maintenance programs cover topics in electronics and instruments, flight control rigging, hydraulics, aircraft structure repair, and landing gear. Power plant maintenance programs include topics in induction systems and components, turbine and reciprocating engines, ignition and fuel metering, repair and lubrication, and the theory of operation.

Some schools offer 4-year bachelor's degree programs in aircraft maintenance. In addition to A&P certification courses, they usually includes courses in aviation law, communication, and management, and more extensive training in computers and math. Advanced maintenance topics, such as non-destructive testing of aviation parts and the use of advanced composites in larger aircrafts, are also covered. Graduates may qualify for management and leadership positions.

Step 2: Experience

Airframe and power plant technicians who work for 18 months under the supervision of a certified mechanic can qualify for an individual airframe or a power plant certification; 30 months can lead to a combined certification. Military service performed in an occupational specialty approved by the FAA and documented for proof of completion can also qualify as experience.

Step 3: FAA Exams

After successfully completing an approved program or the required work experience, aspiring airframe and power plant technicians can apply for permission to take one of the FAA written exams. There are three separate exams that cover airframe mechanics, power plant mechanics, or both airframe and power plant mechanics. Exams are administered electronically at designated test centers across the United States.

Within 24 months of passing a written exam, candidates can take the oral and practical exams that can qualify them for a mechanic's certification. A list of designated mechanic examiners can be found at local FAA offices or its website. The oral and practical exams cover technical subject areas. The exams for the airframe and power plant mechanics sections takes eight hours each. Candidates are tested on their ability to perform practical tasks. For example, the power plant section requires candidates to perform satisfactory repairs and alterations to propellers.

Success Tip:

  • Keep certification current. Airframe and power plant technicians must attend a continuing education refresher course every two years and complete a repair or inspection every three months. Employers or other manufacturers offer refresher courses.

Step 4: Advancement

Airframe and power plant technicians can advance to positions as supervisors or leads, which is more likely if they have an inspector's authorization (IA), along with breadth of experience and knowledge. There are a number of maintenance and repair specialist certifications for airframe and power plant technicians that can help them qualify for these positions.

Let's review. Completing an FAA-approved associate's and/or bachelor's degree program and passing certification exams can help airframe and power plant technicians qualify for positions. The average yearly salary for aircraft mechanics and service technicians in May 2015 was $60,160.

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