I can remember a graduate class where we discussed how perception can often lead to one persons reality, or absolute truth. That is, if an individual perceives a brand of automobile to be unsafe. They often will not purchase that make, whether it is true or not, “I’ve seen lots of VW’s pulled over on the freeway so they must not be reliable cars.” But logic tells us that these automobiles could be pulled over for a myriad of reasons: an important phone call, a sick child, or an ill timed argument. The observer really has no idea whether these cars are reliable or not but presupposes that since they see them pulled over on the Freeway, that they must be broken down and therefore, “would never buy that brand.” This same flawed logic can be labeled to occupations. People often say, “I despise Lawyers, they are simply out for the money.” Yet when one gets falsely charged with a crime, they want the best lawyer they can afford. It’s a paradox. The same holds true for aircraft mechanics. Yet the term mechanic has very little to do with what they actually do or who these people really are.
Somewhere along the line, the term mechanic began to personify a greasy, gruff, often feeble minded individual, who simply beats customer’s cars, aircraft, and boats into submission. Iconography contributed to the stereotype. Iconography is, “the visual images and symbols used in a work of art or the study or interpretation of these.” Iconography is largely attributed to artistic interpretations of religious movements, social and political movements and advertising. It is the perceptual and visual fuel that turns ordinary people into, “Icons.” Advertisers use this to draw in customers with incredible success, think of Walt Disney without Mickey Mouse, or McDonalds with out Ronald McDonald. Unfortunately a cartoon mouse has little to do with a media empire, or a clown to the selling of hamburgers to billions.
The above Army Air Corps painting illustrates this point. The art work glamorizes the mechanic and romanticizes the idea of becoming a mechanic in service to your country. The photo of the mechanic with the cigarette butt in his mouth personifies a more laconic individual, who looks blue collar, dirty, and rough. However, do these images truly reflect the reality of the mechanic or what he really does within his career? It’s true that he fixes things that are broken. The Oxford dictionary states the term mechanic means, “archaic, A manual laborer or artisan.” Even the origin of the word seems inappropriate for todays mechanics. The word in, “late Middle English (as an adjective in the sense ‘relating to manual labor’): via Old French or Latin from Greek mēkhanikos, from mēkhanē (machinery).”
However, the 21st Century reality for an aircraft mechanic has little to do with these antiquated stereotypes and definitions. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials are now calling A&P (Airframe and Powerplant) Mechanics, Aviation Maintenance Technicians. The European equivalent to the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has several levels of licensure but the apex is titled, a Base Maintenance Certifying Engineer.
Aviation and Aerospace technology has evolved beyond the, “grease monkey,” mentality that many still associate with aircraft maintenance. In fact, 80% of the job is utilizing logic, common sense, and systemic knowledge of the aircraft. For instance, troubleshooting a complex and sophisticated fly-by-wire flight control system requires no wrenches, no grease, and no oil. Instead, the technician needs to utilize their ability to analyze symptoms, dismiss erroneous indicators, and find the root cause of the problem. Once the problem is found, 10% of their effort is spent replacing a line replaceable unit (LRU), such as an electronic control unit, rewiring of a connector, or perhaps a wire repair. After that, the final 10% of skill has the technician documenting the maintenance they performed in a clear and forensic manner. This requires a vocabulary that is rich in FAA approved language. The technician’s paperwork is regulated by intense protocols by the FAA. Drug tests are mandatory and felony convictions are disqualifying factors to work in this prestigious field. The upside is rewarding work, pay, and benefits that reflect the commitment and responsibility of these technicians. Many senior technicians at well paying airline or cargo haulers can earn well over $100,000.00 a year. However, the national average is around $55,000.00.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports:
In May 2012, the median annual wages for aircraft technicians and service technicians in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Beginning Scheduled air transportation $59,110
- Federal government, excluding postal service 55,940
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 55,650
- Nonscheduled air transportation 54,910
- Support activities for air transportation 49,120
Furthermore, Aerospace giant Boeing:
…released a long-term market outlook report and it contains good news for those interested in a career in avionics. The report predicts that as global economies grow and tens of thousands of new commercial jetliners are produced, the demand for pilots and educated technicians will also grow exponentially. The company anticipates more than 400,000 pilots and 600,000 airline maintenance technicians will be needed by 2031.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS), job prospects will be best for technicians who hold an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate and keep up with technical advances in aircraft electronics and composite materials. The BLS states many older aircraft mechanics are expected to retire between 2010 and 2020, allowing management and entry-level positions to open up for younger mechanics.
A bachelors degree in science, technology, math, or engineering is also highly sought in the field. Regrettably, the High School diploma for the, “millennial generation,” will most likely not be sufficient to take them to a level of well paying sustainable careers. Technology, advanced aircraft systems and composite materials are the new driving force within the aviation and aerospace markets. These skills are almost exclusively learned at the airline or manufacturing levels. However, many employers will not consider a candidate who lacks license’s and does not have the most up-to-date technical education. Lewis University teaches these new technological disciplines. Lewis does not see our students as simple mechanics, or grease monkeys. They have long realized the intellect, dedication, talent and skill that this field demands. Being a mechanic is surely not a dirty word (no pun intended). But it is not the same as a being a well qualified, educated, safe, experienced, and certified aviation maintenance technician.