There are three categories for professional aircraft mechanics who maintain commercial aircraft. They are airframe mechanics, power plant mechanics, and avionics technicians. Airframe mechanics are authorized to work on any component of the aircraft except the engines and the instruments, which are the responsibilities of the power plant mechanics and the avionics technicians, respectively.
Airframe mechanics oversee the maintenance and repair of the aircraft's fuselage, wings, brakes, steering systems hydraulic systems for maneuvering and for the landing gear, internal air control systems, and all other operations components in the aircraft structure. Power plant mechanics are responsible for the engines and the components that need maintenance and repair within them.
The formal education program for an aircraft mechanic takes eighteen to twenty four months at one of the 175 schools that are accredited by the FAA. Students cover the basics of aircraft maintenance and repair, along with a substantial dose of electronics in order to understand the diagnostic gear used for aircraft today. About a third of these schools offer two or four year programs that result in degrees for aviation technology, avionics or aircraft maintenance management.
The FAA insists on 18 months of experience in order to qualify for an airframe or a power plant certificate, although formal schooling may be substituted for this experience. The FAA also offers a certificate for completion of combined training for both airframe and power plant work.
Called an A&P Certificate, it requires 30 months of combined experience and training, working on both airframes and power plants. In addition the FAA insists on keeping work experience current in order to maintain the certification; applicants must have 1,000 hours of work within the previous 24 months or will be required to take a refresher course for certificate renewal. This is the certificate that most aircraft mechanics carry today, because most airlines require it of their new hires in the field.
There were about 122,000 airframe, power plant and A&P mechanics working in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The jobs in this profession are expected to grow about 10% over the decade 2006 - 2016, once again based on Labor Department statistics. This pace is about the same as the average projected rate for jobs overall.
10th Percentile $32,960
Median Salary $51,390
90th Percentile $69,030
Source: U.S. Department of Labor