AIN Blog: I Never Wanted To Be a Mechanic

 - April 21, 2011, 10:40 AM

I never wanted to be an aircraft mechanic. That’s probably a good thing, because I would never fly in anything I worked on. 

I’m a pilot at my core and my personality is not compatible with being a mechanic. I see the world in shades of gray. “Sure there’s a line of thunderstorms, but I can go around them.” A good mechanic sees the world in black and white. “I’m sorry, the turbo-entabulator has defluxed; the aircraft is grounded.” You’re not going to hear a mechanic say, “Well, you know, it’s pretty airworthy; give it a shot.”

I have hunted, fished, golfed and broken bread (not to mention a window or two when golfing) with mechanics all over the world. As a result, I’ve become protective of them as a group. The tools they use, the equipment they work on and the level of their education and technical training have all taken quantum leaps forward, but they are still aviation’s second-class citizens.

An industry study a few years ago revealed pagers as one of the top five perks given to mechanics. In what alternate universe is a 24-hour umbilical cord to work a perk? Pass me some of those brownies, please.

Another, more recent study determined the average salary for an aircraft captain is 32 percent higher than the average salary for an A&P mechanic. The average salary for a chief pilot is 12 percent higher than the average salary of his counterpart, the director of maintenance. And the prejudice seems focused on aircraft mechanics. A CEO will pay more per hour for car maintenance than he will for service on his multimillion-dollar corporate jet. That’s ridiculous.

Pilots are quick to point out the lives of their passengers rest in their hands. True enough, but the flight crew are the first to arrive at the scene of an accident; methinks safe operation is just as self serving. On the other hand, a mechanic can accidentally leave a bolt out of every airplane then go home, have dinner and watch the carnage on television.

Mediocre pay, on call 24/7, maximum liability and federal oversight, and work often performed in the elements. And we wonder why we’re not getting new people into the profession.

 “We won’t be competitive. Operators won’t pay more for maintenance,” is the MRO management’s lament. OK, everyone close on Friday, go home for the weekend, return on Monday and increase your rates across the board by $20 an hour. Then do the right thing and pay mechanics what they deserve.

Here’s a clue: Business jets are going to keep flying; maintenance is part of the cost of doing business. Imagine what the hourly rate is going to be if there are only a handful of 80-year-old mechanics left in the industry and they won’t work on bingo night. At that point even I might have to put my A&P certificate to use and start doing maintenance, and that’s too frightening even to imagine.