Do Automotive Mechanics Really Make More than Aircraft Mechanics?

Are you undecided about which career path to take? If you are trying to compare automotive mechanic Vs. aircraft mechanic, then this post should shed some light on the decision.  First of all, I am of course biased to some extent when it comes to this topic. I am currently a helicopter mechanic with my A&P license. However, I have worked in the automotive industry for years, primarily in automotive testing/ engineering  sector. I have many friends that still work in this field still today. For this discussion, I am going to break it down into Pros and Cons of each career.

The Automotive Mechanicaircraft mechanic automotive mechanic

The automotive mechanic can earn an income by either an hourly wage, flat rate or self employed.  According to US department of Labor, an hourly paid automotive mechanic can earn about $20.00 an hour. If you are unaware of what flat rate is, let me describe it to you. Lets say a mechanic is performing a job for a customer. According to the job, the task lists that it will take 2 hours. But our mechanic is super fast, and he has does this task many times before. Not to mention he has a special tool that makes the job even easier. He can get it done in 15 minutes. He will get paid for 2 hours labor. In this example, the mechanic can make a killing. Most dealerships are flat rate.  It is also important to note that warranty repairs generally do not give as much time to complete. So, if you are stuck doing multiple warranty jobs, you could be struggling.  Not to mention, some jobs are grossly generous while others are near impossible to meet the allotted time. So the trick is to get the good jobs while the other poor saps that you work with get the crap jobs. Now, this largely comes down to how well you know and get along with the sales guy who distributes the jobs. Especially if you are new, it can take a long time to build up a reputation. Plus, the dealership needs new guys like you to shovel the crap jobs on to while they get the easy cake jobs. After all, they did their time, now you gotta do yours. Also, when times get slow, so does your pay check.  Hourly rate is much more dependable and steady.

Other Options

I have two friends that swear that they make great money working on school buses. Diesel mechanics can make good money, and working on a school bus is probably one of the easier gigs. School buses are pretty simple and utilitarian in design. If you are really detail oriented, auto body might be your thing too. If you love spending countless hours sanding while breathing harmful chemicals only to have the customer complain of orange peel in the paint, auto body might be your ticket.

Pros

  • There are automotive shops all over the place. Finding a job is easy.
  • ASE certifications are plentiful and easy to get.
  • You don’t have to be a mechanic, There are automotive test technician jobs that pay well
  • Short Schooling
  • Low risk / Liability

 

Cons

  • Those ASE certifications expire every 5 years – Costs more money to renew
  • Need lots of special tools. Must have SAE and Metric sizes
  • Pay tops out and not much room for advancement
  • Working on old crappy cars is not much fun

The Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft mechanics are normally either salary or hourly employees. According to US department of labor, aircraft mechanics can make between $20.00 – $27.00 on average. Now, as

Eurocopter EC-135 – Photo Marcus Schlaf

with the automotive mechanic stats, I would take these numbers with a grain of salt.  The pay range for aircraft mechanics is really all over the board. Working in a small FBO at the airport generally does not pay very well, in fact, I would expect about $15.00 per hour.  Working at an FBO does build experience levels and teaches valuable skills but the real money is elsewhere.  The real money comes after you get more confident and more familiar with different airframes.  There are lots of areas to specialize in like sheet-metal repair, avionics, aircraft electrician or general mechanic. Each of these areas can earn a nice chunk of money.  It is even possible to earn a 6 figure income as an aircraft mechanic.  These might be contracting jobs overseas or consultation jobs here back in the states. The point is, there is huge potential to make real money in this industry.  There has been lots of bad news lately coming from the airline industry. Mechanics are being laid off left and right while companies file in bankruptcy court. This is indeed tragic and it saddens me because these were once great jobs. They were the highest paid in the industry. Unfortunately times have changed.  The solution to this problem is to avoid the airline industry if at all possible. The major cargo carriers still have good pay and benefits however. Most of the airline maintenance is not being contracted out.  Mechanics earn anywhere from $17.00 – $25.00 per hour. This can also be a great place to build up experience as most contract firms do not require lots of experience.  The Pros and Cons of aviation maintenance;

Pros

  • Great money, 6 figures is possible
  • Aviation mechanic schools are short – approx 2 years
  • No certification renewal, A&P license good for life or until surrendered
  • Aircraft are way cooler than cars.
  • More advancement opportunities

Cons

  • Depending on location, jobs might be scarce. Travel may be required
  • High liability. Your signature releases the aircraft back into service

 

Bottom Lineaircraft mechanics automotive mechanics

Whether your a helicopter mechanic, jet engine mechanic, or general aircraft mechanic, aviation is definitely the way to go. Now, you do have to enjoy being around aircraft. The aviation community is a small close nit group of people who are always willing to share and teach their experiences.  The people is what really makes aviation a great place to work.  There is nothing better than going on a test flight after some maintenance and “punching a hole in the sky”.  Even the rarest and fastest car on the planet cannot compare to flight.

Besides, you can always get your A&P license, and also become an automotive mechanic too. An aircraft mechanic can always work on cars, but an automotive mechanic cannot work on planes. Getting your ASE certifications is pretty easy to do if you decide to change your mind. Aviation mechanic schools teach a great deal of useful information not only for aircraft mechanics, but all mechanics, the basics are all the same. It is also nice to have a backup plan in case you dream job falls through. I always advise to be good at more than one thing. There is no reason why a person who fixes aircraft cannot fix a car, motorcycle or lawnmower for that matter. I have experienced that automotive testing industry likes aircraft mechanic guys. The idea is that an aircraft mechanic is more detail oriented (real or perceived)  and better suited for a lab testing environment.

Where Do You Start?

In the United States, you will need your Airframe – Powerplant license, or A&P  if you wish to work on aircraft.  The A&P license is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Getting your A&P license is pretty straight forward. Basically you attend a 2 year aviation mechanic school and after graduation, you can test for the A&P license.Use the aviation mechanic school finder here and find a school near you. Go visit the school and talk to the administrations department. Get your career going!

 

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