An Airframe and Powerplant license, or A&P license, qualifies you as a general mechanic to work on aircraft. A&P mechanics repair and maintain airplane engines, landing gear and just about everything except the flight instruments. That kind of work requires additional certification as an avionics technician. Look for jobs at companies or organizations with large fleets of planes, such as passenger airlines, the military, aircraft manufacturers and package delivery firms.
General Aircraft Mechanics
A&P licensing is the baseline requirement for work as a general mechanic servicing all types of aircraft, including jets and helicopters. Some mechanics specialize in a particular type of aircraft and a particular section, such as the electrical or hydraulic systems, the engine, brakes and landing gear. Even the air conditioning systems need A&P mechanics. Maintenance work includes using X-rays or ultrasonic inspection equipment to detect cracks, corrosion and other problems not visible to the eye. Repair work is also done on the aircraft's framework and skin, on materials ranging from fabric, wood and metal to composite materials. After repairs are completed, equipment is tested before being put back into service.
Qualifying for an A&P License
Mechanics must take and pass three written FAA exams, an oral exam and a practical test to get an A&P license. To qualify for the licensing process, mechanics must be at least 18 years old and have 18 months of experience working on power plants or airframes, or 30 months of experience working on both. As an alternative to experience, applicants can provide proof that they've graduated from an FAA approved technical school, such as Redstone College.
A&P mechanics who are ready to take the next step might go for an additional FAA license as an avionics technician. These technicians service and repair the electronic equipment on board every type of aircraft. Equipment includes the dashboard instrumentation, radio and radar systems and navigational aids. This type of work requires special training in computer technologies. Additional licensing with the Federal Communications Commission is needed for technicians working on communication equipment.
Designated Airworthiness Representatives
Highly experienced A&P mechanics can apply to become designated airworthiness representatives. DARs are private citizens who work for aircraft servicing companies or departments, and who represent the FAA by performing aircraft certifications. DARs fully inspect and test used aircraft to validate that it is safe to fly, and then certify the craft on behalf of the FAA. Applicants for selection as designees must go through an extensive evaluation process, including an initial review, a technical review and a final assessment performed by a panel.
2016 Salary Information for Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians earned a median annual salary of $60,230 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $48,370, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $73,680, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 149,500 people were employed in the U.S. as aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians.