Eating the elephant: Becoming an A&P is closer than you think

May 5, 2014

Jeff SimonThe interesting thing about education is that it is self-perpetuating. Each new skill you master serves as motivation to continue on to the next level. Over time, we grow a little too big for our environment and it’s time to expand our horizons. Nowhere is this more evident than in aviation.  First lessons lead to flying solo, solo leads to your license, and years of VFR flight can motivate us to expand into the world of IFR flight.

Aircraft ownership and maintenance is no different. For some, it translates into the desire to move up to the ownership of a more complex aircraft, while for others it can mean moving to the next level of aircraft maintenance ability.

After 10 years of owner-assisted annuals and preventive maintenance work on my airplane, I started to feel more proficient, but also more restricted by the FAA regulations regarding what maintenance owners could perform (and log) themselves. I’d worked with my mechanic on all sorts of upgrades and repairs and learned enough about most maintenance tasks to be fairly self-sufficient…except for that pesky logbook entry by my supervising mechanic.

It was about that time that a good friend of mine and Grumman expert Bob Steward asked, “Why don’t you just get your A&P license already? You must have the required experience by now.”  So, I began asking questions and researching the process.

The general requirements to be eligible for an aviation mechanic certificate include the following:

  • Be 18 or older;
  • Be able to read, speak, and understand English fluently;
  • Meet the experience or education requirement;
  • Pass a set of required tests within a maximum of 24 months.

The required tests include a set of written knowledge tests, followed by a practical test, and oral examination administered by an FAA designated mechanic examiner. The same process is followed to obtain an airframe rating, powerplant rating, or both (A&P). 

The main hurdle for most people seeking an A&P license is not the tests, it’s meeting the experience or educational requirement. The best-known path to becoming a career maintenance professional is to attend an FAA-certified training program under Part 147 of the FARs. This is a highly recommended path if you want a career in aviation maintenance because you will get exposed to everything from jet engine maintenance to fabric and composite work. But these programs require 18 to 24 months of full-time work in order to reach the required 1,700 hours of education and cover the required materials. 

However, there is hope for the rest of us. Most aviation regulations were conceived in the early days of the industry. And, long before there were Part 147 aviation maintenance schools, there were apprenticeships. If you own and work on your aircraft under the guidance of your local mechanic, that’s exactly what you’re doing; learning by experience.

They key is in understanding that every little task you learn is a small step on the way to qualifying for your A&P. Next time, we’ll explain this process in detail and show you how a decade of aircraft ownership may put you closer to your A&P than you might think. Until then, head over to the airport and buy your local mechanic lunch. You’re going to need his help in this endeavor, and I’ve yet to see any mechanic turn down a free meal!

Social FlightJeff Simon is an A&P mechanic, pilot, and aircraft owner. He has spent the last 14 years promoting owner-assisted aircraft maintenance as a columnist for several major aviation publications and through his how-to DVD series: The Educated Owner. Jeff is also the creator of SocialFlight, the free mobile app and website that maps over 10,000 aviation events. Free apps available for iPhone, iPad and Android, and on the Web at www.SocialFlight.com.