It’s a tale that has been told a million and one times, though not quite as old as time.
You graduated college and got a job, but it turns out you don’t really like that job. Now you are exploring new gigs out there. That’s when you stumble on the idea of getting into aviation.
Airplanes and helicopters are super cool, so you might as well pursue it, right?
The thing is, you have a mechanical engineering degree already. You love doing work with your hands and want to stay in that realm of work.
So, what do you do?
Your extensive research (or a quick Google search) shows that there is a job in aviation called “aircraft maintenance engineer.” Naturally, you search for the next thing you must know: “can a mechanical engineer become an aircraft maintenance engineer?”
The short answer is “yes,” but there’s a good amount of information that goes with that “yes.”
The “long answer” begins with the knowledge that aviation is one of the most regulated fields out there. It’s perfect for anyone that is extremely organized and okay with doing some paperwork because every single thing you do to an aircraft is required to be logged.
Also, you need to log your own time working on various aircraft to gain experience and build a name for yourself.
Since aviation is so heavily regulated, your past experience as a mechanical engineer doesn’t really play into your new career of becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer. It does pad your resume and makes it more likely to get a better job out of the gate than a graduate with no degree or job experience.
Side note before we continue: the job title “aircraft maintenance engineer” is kind of interchangeable with a few different terms. The names vary because each country has a different governing body for aviation. Other names for this same job may include:
- Aircraft Maintenance Technician (AMT)
- Aviation Maintenance Technical Engineer
- A&P Mechanic
- Airframe and Powerplant Technician
- Aircraft Engineer
- Aircraft Mechanic
- Aircraft Technician
- Aviation Engineer
- Aviation Maintenance Engineer
- Aviation Maintenance Technician
The gist is that they all do the same type of work on aircraft. The term used will vary from country to country, company to company, or even airport to airport.
But I want to stress, they all do the same job.
How to Become an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer
This is a really cool aspect of the job – when it comes to becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer, there are two possible routes to get there! You can go to school again in a more formal trade school, or you can build experience as an apprentice working at an aircraft mechanic shop.
The cheaper of the two routes is definitely going to be finding a shop and getting on-the-job experience. The big key here is that you log everything you do. There is an AMT Log Book that you can buy to do this. If you start logging time, the FAA may allow you to forego formal schooling to officially become a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer.
This training can also be done through the military. If you get your training working on F-16s and Osprey helicopters, you can take a test by the FAA and use that to become licensed to work on civilian aircraft.
A test must be administered because there is a bit of a difference moving from a military aircraft that travels well over Mach 2 to an aircraft that maxes out at less than Mach 1.
A Part 147 AMT School
The second possibility for training is going through a part 147 aviation maintenance technician school (https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/airline_certification/amts/). These are more commonly referred to as AMTS.
The AMTS’s are FAA accredited and guaranteed to get you to the point you want to be at. They will get you the required hours and book training to pass the tests and get started in your dream career.
AMTS’s typically takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months to complete. There are options that also get you a degree, which isn’t a requirement but may help you with landing a great job.
The Three Parts of the Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Certificate
When you are on your journey to becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer, you will find there are three major portions of the certificate. An 18-month journey taken from a part 147 school makes sense because it breaks it into three chunks of about six months each.
- General – the first portion required is the general aircraft maintenance portion. It gives you the base knowledge that will help with any aircraft you could possibly come up with. This is also where the mechanical engineering degree may help the most. It will likely give you the best knowledge base to understand difficult aviation topics.
- Airframe – the second portion of the aircraft maintenance engineering journey is going to take you into the world of airframes. This part is where you will niche a bit more and focus on the actual airplane structure itself. There will be education on maintenance for parts like the ailerons, flaps, wings as a whole, fuselage or body, and the empennage of the aircraft.
- Powerplant – the final portion of your aircraft maintenance engineering schooling is going to be dealing with the powerplant of the aircraft. This is the terminology used to describe the engine. Since there are multiple kinds of engines, namely a piston-driven, turbine, or jet engine, the accepted term is powerplant to encompass all of them.
After being trained in all three portions, you will be eligible to take your FAA exams, which you will for sure be able to ace since you have put so much time into this new career path!
After passing your exams, you will be able to get really specific on the type of aircraft you will be working on. You can specialize in things like rotorcraft and deal with only helicopters, or you could get really specific and work on Cessna aircraft. There is also the route of working for an airline and specializing in the aircraft they use, such as Airbus or Boeing.
No matter your background, as a mechanical engineer, you will be able to get started on a career in aviation you love. Starting the journey to becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer is simple and worthwhile. So get started today!