Your degree in fine arts won't help you in aircraft repair. As an aviation mechanic, your job skills may leave you covered in grease from repairing aircraft engines, or with cuts from reworking damaged metal surfaces. You might even find your fingers glued together from repairing tears in the upholstery and carpeting. A degree in electronic and electrical engineering, though, can help you earn the additional license you need to repair a plane's electronic systems, such as radar and its radios and, perhaps, lead to slightly higher pay.
The pay for an aviation mechanic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, averages $26.55 per hour, or $55,210 a year. They must hold an airframe and powerplant license -- informally called an A/P license -- and repair anything on an airplane, except its instruments, its electronic navigation systems, its radio and its radar. Avionics technicians average $26.61 an hour, or $55,350 a year, to repair those electronic systems, but to do so they must possess a valid general radiotelephone license, issued by the Federal Communications Commission, with an endorsement to repair radar.
Most A/P mechanics support air transportation activities, many for scheduled airlines. The highest wages for A/P mechanics are found in Maryland, Connecticut, Tennessee and Hawaii. The highest wages for avionics technicians are found in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Washington, Kansas and New York. In Hawaii, the only state to appear in the top five for both airframe and power plant mechanics and avionics technicians, the avionics tech earns $67,550 per year, and the airframe and power plant earns $62,710 per year.
An avionics technician’s slightly higher hourly wage comes from the requirement that he have an FCC-issued general radiotelephone license, in addition to the A/P license. This license allows him to repair and test all types of radio transmission devices, except radar. Radar repair requires an additional endorsement on the general radiotelephone license and an additional exam. The radar endorsement, called the "element 8" endorsement by the FCC, allows him to repair any type of radar, including ship radar.
In 2010, the BLS projected overall growth for all occupations between 2010 and 2020 at about 14 percent. Avionics jobs are projected to grow by 7 percent -- half of the overall job gains predicted by the BLS in 2010. Jobs for airframe and power plant mechanics were projected to grow by only 6 percent, as were jobs for persons holding both certifications.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012
- American Airman: FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians - Job Outlook
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