Modern aircraft rely on high-tech electronics systems to stay aloft. Avionics technicians are the professionals who maintain those components, from flight management computers to navigation systems. Because poor maintenance can mean catastrophe, employers look for avionics technicians with formal training, certification and the physical and intellectual skills for the job. Avionics technicians with the right credentials can expect a 7 percent gain in available jobs from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Employers require training in a formal avionics program. For entry-level work, technicians need a certificate from a program that teaches broad skills in aircraft electronics such as GPS systems, communications systems and weather radar. It can take 18 to 24 months to finish a certificate. Some programs offer an associate’s degree in avionics technology. Students learn avionics basics, as well as how to read aircraft drawings and install avionics lines. Schools may also teach mechanical skills such as soldering, radio repair and calibration of test equipment.To advance, a bachelor’s degree may be the best option. Employers increasingly prefer applicants with four-year degrees, and students in bachelor’s programs learn management and communications skills.
Several trade groups certify avionics technicians. The National Center for Aerospace & Transportation Technologies offers an Aircraft Electronics Technician standard to certify people in systems of military, airline and cargo planes and repair stations. To qualify, technicians must get 70 percent on an exam that tests knowledge of terminology, troubleshooting, operating theories and circuitry. Plus, the International Society of Certified Electronics Technicians certifies students or technicians who earn 75 percent on a test that covers basic electronics, math, transistors, circuits and troubleshooting. Certification isn’t mandatory, but some employers prefer it.
Avionics technicians have to be able to handle the physical rigors of the job, which has above-average rates of injury and illness. Because they work with handheld tools to repair equipment, fine motor control and hand-eye coordination are essential. Technicians must be able to coordinate their fingers and hands to pick up, repair or assemble parts. Plus, they need agility to climb and balance on airplanes. They may work outside in extreme temperatures, and they often have to stand or kneel in awkward positions to finish a fix.
Intellectual and mental skills are important. Technicians should be detail-oriented to adjust airplane systems and controls to exact specifications. Also vital are troubleshooting skills, or the ability to determine what causes a complex problem and come up with possible fixes. Critical thinking skills, including judgment, logic and reasoning, help technicians figure out the best repair option. The ability to communicate is key as well, because technicians need to understand the description of a problem and discuss fixes with clients or coworkers.
People who make the grade as avionics technicians enjoy above-average wages. The median annual income in the field was $55,350 as of May 2012. That was nearly 60 percent more than the $34,756 average for all U.S. jobs. The bottom 10 percent of earners took home a median of $39,150, while the top 10 percent took home $73,770. Technicians who worked in management of companies and enterprises earned the highest annual mean, at $65,580. Aerospace manufacturers paid $60,330, while scheduled air transportation businesses offered $59,060. Among states, companies in Hawaii paid avionics technicians the most, at a mean annual wage of $67,550. Also in the top three were Pennsylvania, at $63,130, and Washington, at $62,400.