You don’t have to leave the ground to fly high in today’s sluggish job market.
“Aviation maintenance technicians are in demand worldwide,” said Reggie Baker, executive director of the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Duluth.
The global airline industry will need 34,000 new airplanes (double the current number) by 2031, according to a 2012 Current Market Outlook report published by the Boeing Co. It forecasts that commercial airlines will require 601,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians in the next 20 years to maintain that fleet.
“That’s just the commercial side of the industry and doesn’t include regional carriers, charters, the military and other aviation needs,” Baker said. “In Georgia, everyone knows Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but few realize that there are more than 400 airports in the state.”
Every airplane that takes off and lands needs technicians on the ground to do safety checks, perform maintenance and make repairs to keep it flying.
“That means that when someone walks into our school and learns what he needs to know, he is going to walk away knowing that there will be plenty of job openings,” Baker said.
Becoming an aviation maintenance technician requires completing a program that leads to an airframe and powerplant (A&P) certificate and license at a school approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
To qualify as an aviation maintenance technician, the FAA requires job candidates to be at least 18, fluent in English and have 30 months of work experience, or to graduate from an approved educational program.
Most programs in avionics, aviation technology or aviation maintenance management last from 18 to 24 months, but about one-third of the schools offer two-year and four-year degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A degree offers advancement opportunities.
“An A&P license qualifies you to work on any U.S.-registered airplane anywhere in the world, but the skills are equally desired by high-end automakers, elevator companies, robotics manufacturers, cruise ship fleets and power plants,” Baker said.
The Southeast is a hub for the aviation industry, with Airbus building its first U.S.-based production facility in Alabama; Boeing in South Carolina; Lockheed in Marietta and South Carolina; Gulfstream in Savannah; and Pratt & Whitney in Columbus.
“People are always surprised when they come inside our huge big-box structure and find it filled with aircraft and engines, and there’s no airport in sight,” Baker said. “But we are in a perfect spot to support the industry.”
The institute has about 600 students enrolled in its aviation maintenance technician (18 months); avionics (five months); aviation maintenance technology engineer (24 months); and advanced structures technician (12 months) programs. Graduates get entry-level jobs paying $15 to $20 an hour, Baker said.
Students take courses in math, physics, electronics and aerodynamics and all systems of an aircraft. Tuition at AIM is about $20,000 per year.
“To get into school and succeed in this industry, you have to have an interest in all things electrical, agility and manual dexterity,” Baker said. “You also have to have the highest work ethics, morals and integrity.
“This is a very serious industry. When a surgeon does something wrong, he may lose a patient. When a technician does something wrong on an Airbus plane, 800 people could die.”
The job is very detail-oriented.
“That’s where female technicians excel. Women aren’t always interested in this field, but once they enroll, most love it and do awesome in their careers,” he said.