What does an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer do?
Aircraft maintenance engineers inspect, service, repair and overhaul civil aircraft. Most engineers specialise in either mechanical or avionics engineering.
Mechanical engineering includes engines and airframes. Airframes cover the structure and fabric of an aircraft. Some specialise in either engines or airframes, while others work on both.
Avionics engineering covers instruments, electrical and electronic equipment, automatic flight control systems, radar and radio navigation/communication systems. Avionics engineers may work on all these areas or may specialise.
All aircraft have to undergo a set of checks between flights. Engineers carry out these checks using meters and testing equipment. They also follow up and fix any problems that aircrew may have reported with the aircraft.
Aircraft also have to be maintained and overhauled after a set number of flying hours. Engineers undertake this through line maintenance, which consists of relatively quick inspections and repairs of an aircraft. Base maintenance consists of in-depth checks and major modifications to the aircraft.
Some engineers are licensed. They check and inspect aircraft maintenance work and certify it as correct and also supervise other engineers’ work.
What is the working environment like for Aircraft Maintenance Engineers?
The basic working week is 37 to 40 hours, however engineers often work longer hours as work must be finished on time. Most engineers work shifts that include weekends to cover all flying hours.
Some pre-flight checks take place outdoors in all weather conditions. Other work takes place indoors in hangars or workshops. Work inside an aircraft often takes place in cramped and awkward positions and can include kneeling and bending. Some work can be at heights. Workshop-based work can be light.
What does it take to become a Aircraft Maintenance Engineer?
To be an aircraft maintenance engineer you should:
- Have mechanical ability and manual skills for using tools and instruments
- Be able to read and understand manuals and technical drawings
- Have a logical and methodical approach in order to trace and diagnose faults
- Have a strong sense of responsibility, as the work affects the safety of aircraft and passengers
- Be able to work well on your own, but also as part of a team
- Able to work quickly and accurately under pressure
- Be aware of safety hazards and precautions
- Be physically fit and agile, as work may be in confined and awkward conditions
- Have normal colour vision
- Have a head for heights
What career opportunities are there for Aircraft Maintenance Engineers?
Airlines and independent companies that specialise in aircraft maintenance are the major employers of aircraft maintenance engineers. Others work for small employers in general aviation, including business aviation, air taxis, the police, air ambulance, surveying, agriculture and pilot training. Flying clubs also employ engineers. Some engineers work freelance.
Many small organisations only recruit trained engineers. It is usually large employers that offer training schemes, but competition for entry is intense. There is a shortage of trained aircraft maintenance engineers. Holders of licences are particularly in demand, especially avionics specialists.
Some engineers work abroad for UK airlines. There are some openings abroad working for overseas airlines, but such opportunities are decreasing.
Progression to senior and supervisor positions may be possible, particularly if licensed. Further progression is possible to management positions. Some experienced engineers may seek work with aircraft manufacturers in production fitting or in design and development. Others may apply to the Armed Forces as fitters.