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CHAPTER 3 

What To Expect
On The First Day
 

When you finally get your first job it will have taken between three to six months to accomplish this task.  Your mental attitude will have probably sunk to new lows and have bounced back to an incredible high, when you find yourself standing on the ramp at the airport waiting for the airplanes to come in for repair.  I can remember how I felt when I was there.  I said to myself, "My God I am finally here, I can hardly believe it." 

Usually a new A&P mechanic will find themselves working at a Fixed Base Operator or F.B.O.  If you find yourself in this position be thankful.  At an F.B.O. you will have the opportunity to gain hands on experience on a broad number of aircraft.  These repair stations are authorized by the F.A.A.  to perform major repairs and alterations as well as phased maintenance inspections on certain types of aircraft and in most cases they are authorized to work on more than one type.  This will enable you to work on a variety of aircraft and that enhances your employment possibilities.  Most people who go to a commuter for their first job will not have this added benefit.  Yet on the other hand most commuter mechanics will have flight benefits and the F.B.O.  mechanic will not.  If you start out at an F.B.O.  you should keep in mind they bare no similarities to airline maintenance whatsoever.  Therefore don't believe that the example of quality workmanship you are witnessing at the repair station is what is going on at the airlines as well.  These repair stations are loosely controlled by the F.A.A.  in stark contrast to the airlines.  The predominate reason for this is that the Feds just have more than they can handle with the airlines and commuter outfits which tend to be in the public eye allot more.  The Feds have encountered tremendous cutbacks in personnel and they just can't cover all the bases as much as they would like to.  They say that the repair stations are the way of the future and that airlines will be hiring less because it is cheaper to contract the heavy maintenance out to a repair station and not have to hire all the employees required to do those inspections and provide those employees with benefits as well as the pay.  These repair stations are turning into the McDonalds of aviation.  There is no heart and soul to them.  The management of these institutions care very little for the people that are working for them.  They keep themselves grossly understaffed and their employees highly overworked.  As a result morale is very low at these places and consequently the quality of workmanship stinks.

Besides this the injury rate from on the job accidents is allot higher.  Because these places do not operate the aircraft they work on they have no F.A.A.  approved maintenance plan of their own and are forced to use the inspection paperwork of the owners or operators which can be absolutely useless.  Because they operate on such a tight schedule the planning departments at these places can only do a cursory examination of the paperwork to determine what tooling and parts will be required for the inspection.  Because of this a good portion of the tools required are not made available and a good portion of the parts that are ordered are the wrong ones or not made available in a timely fashion.  Because the paperwork for every aircraft is different it becomes difficult for the inspection to be done with any kind of coordination.  As a result you will find mechanics closing panels only to open them several days later because somebody for got to issue an inspection card for something.  As you can probably gather the F.B.O.  is a place to gain experience and move on to an airline or a place to work when things are bad in the industry and the airlines aren't hiring.  For me one of the major reasons for this is that F.B.O.'s don't offer flight benefits.

Another place a new mechanic can find themselves working for is the contractor or job shop.  These places sign contracts to repair aircraft and then hire mechanics to do the work.  The pay is a little better than a commuter or F.B.O. but most of them offer no medical insurance, or flight benefits.  A job shop will hire you and pay you a paltry per diem.  It will be your responsibility to get to the job site which can be in any adjoining state or across the continent.  You will work there until the contract is over and then wait until you are reassigned to the next job.  Which means that during the time between contracts you are not getting paid.  This means that you are going to live in hotel rooms or shack up with several other guys in an apartment.  This type of job leaves you with no personal life.  These places perform the most vile and disgusting quality of maintenance and in my opinion should not be permitted to operate.

If you find yourself hired by a commuter airline one of the first things you should do is learn how to tug an airplane.  This is necessary to getting the job done and the more people who can do it the better the crew is.  I really got a thrill out of pushing the airplanes around.  One of the first things that you will immediately notice about how it is done, is that in most cases the aircraft is pushed backwards all the time from the front of the tug.  There are some very good reasons for this.  Namely you can see where the airplane is going all the time. 

The thing to remember is which direction to turn the steering wheel to point the airplane where you want it to go.  The way tugging will be done in the future is being developed by Goldhoffer and Lufthansa.  They are eliminating towbars altogether, and using a tug that scoops up the entire nose wheel assembly by hydraulic scoops that cradle the nose wheels and lift them off the pavement.  Then the aircraft can be moved in a normal manner.  This saves allot of money by eliminating the need for towbars that fit each airplane.  All towbars are not designed the same.

Since you will be required to perform taxi and tug operations, you should get a diagram of the airport taxiways and runways.  You should completely familiarize yourself with the layout of the airport.  If you are having difficulty finding one you can get one from the Airport Authority, the FAA or if the airport is small draw one out for yourself.  This way, when the instructions come from the tower, "American tug one two taxi via alpha to golf, hold short of two two."

You will know what the tower wants you to do.  Always without fail repeat back any instructions given to you over the radio.  This lets the controller in the tower know that you have understood his directions.  If you can't remember it all, repeat the first part that you do remember and then tell him to repeat all after the last word you remember him saying, like this.  If the instructions were to taxi via alpha to golf, hold short of two two and you missed the last part about two two.  Just say to him "American tug one two taxi via alpha to golf, repeat all after golf." The controller will then tell you to hold short of runway two two.  Always ask for a repeat even if you think the directions were not that important, because you could be wrong.  Also by giving the controller a callback it can protect your fanny.  Every command given over the radio at an airport is recorded on magnetic tape.  If the controller gave you the wrong directions or behaved in an unprofessional manner there will be evidence of it on tape.  This works both ways so don't be cutting up on the radio.

One thing the public is not aware of is that a mechanic must buy his own tools.  I tell some people this and they look at me in horror because they know how expensive the tools at the hardware store are.  Purchase them sensibly please.  Don't rack up a bill into the thousands.  What really gets most new mechanics is that you can buy all the tools you need and even the ones you don't need on credit from the Mac Tools man or the Snap-On man, so be careful and use some self control.  I know from experience, at one point I had a two thousand dollar Snap-On bill. Most employers will provide you a list of the tools you will need in addition to the ones you had in school.  Stick to the list and save the rest.

When you report to work for your first shift you will probably walk into the hangar with a small hand held tool box and find that you are in a world where the dollars required to buy the tool boxes the other mechanics use could buy a good used car.  You will see decals stuck on most of these tool boxes that say things like, "I invest in precious metals.  Don't ask to borrow them." Don't pay any attention to them.  Mechanics work as a team.  Everybody will know that you're the new guy and will loan you anything you need, so don't be afraid to ask.  Now there will be a few mechanics that may be a bit stingy with loaning out their tools but they are the exception rather than the rule.  If the work doesn't get done on time because someone didn't have a tool the whole team suffers.

Another aspect of being a mechanic that people are not aware of is that in most cases you will have to pay for your uniforms as well.  This can add up to quite an expense.  I paid around three hundred and fifty dollars for enough uniforms to last two weeks between wash days.  Most companies that don't provide uniforms will take a small amount of money from each check to cover the cost of the uniforms.  When you take into consideration that you must buy your own hand tools and your uniforms you can be left scratching your head, wondering if it is all worth it.  Another thing to remember when it comes to uniforms is that they are only good for the job you are currently working.  If you lose your job for any reason you will not be able to wear them at another location. 

One of the biggest problems a new hire has at his first job out of school is stage fright.  I once had to train a new guy right out of school.  Several other mechanics had tried their best to help this guy and had given up in frustration.  One of my fellow workers came up to me and asked me to help him along and said that he was having some real difficulties getting adjusted to the routine.  So I took him under my wing and taught him step by step, by demonstration how to do an A inspection on a Dornier 228.  When it came time for him to do it his hands started to shake like a wino coming off booze and he got so nervous all the movements with his hands were jerky and without coordination.  I finally got him to tug airplanes and relax a bit on the job, but his performance was so slow he was finally let go.  I guess he thought that he was performing brain surgery or something.

The point to remember is that, sure the airplane is complex and the job seems overwhelming.  It seemed that way for everybody at one point in their life and the mechanics you see on the floor who appear to be experts were at one time in your shoes feeling the same way you do and they made it.  So why can't you? When you first get hired there will be certain things you must learn and learn how to do.  Find out what they are, make a list if necessary and do them.  If you accomplish that, you will have passed your probation period successfully.

That first night you will be borrowing tools from everybody and it will get to the point you are sick and tired of it.  I think at this point it is best to start out small and get a Craftsman rollaway.  It may even be required that you have a rollaway.  Don't go crazy and buy a three thousand dollar Snap-On rollaway just yet.  Allot of people feel so concerned about passing their probation period (usually six months at a commuter) that they wont buy enough tools or a toolbox.  I believe that the cost of a Craftsman box is so reasonable that for a person's first box it shouldn't be passed up.  You may even find someone that is looking to upgrade and buy his cheap.  Many times the Snap-On man buys a used Craftsman from a mechanic when he upgrades to a bigger box.  The Snap-On man has no use for the box so you can usually get an excellent deal, so check with him.  Also you must try to look at your long term goals. If you intend to work for a major airline and you suspect that you will be working line maintenance on jets a large tool box is not required and in fact will be an- extreme hassle.  If you are planning to advance in your career you are going to have to move and trying to move a rollaway from Snap-On into a U-Haul trailer takes a forklift or a lot of work in removing the tools from the box.  You should also plan what you will do with it if you get laid off Granted Snap-On boxes are lovely pieces of equipment but they have no place in the house.  I suppose that you could use it in the kitchen as chopping block, but with the kind of chemicals the top is exposed to no person in their right mind would prepare food on it.  By not blowing all of your money on an expensive tool box you can divert the extra money into something more important.  Tools! When it comes to buying tools you should keep in mind that a mechanic can do more and work faster with a crescent wrench than he can with a tool room full of wrenches and fancy gadgets.  I discovered this working line maintenance in Miami.  It seemed I was always searching for the right sized wrench and wasting allot of time in the search.  I finally gave up and started to take my crescent wrench to the line and could immediately feel the difference through the lack of frustration and the speed at which I was working.

The most important tool that a mechanic can have is a driver drill or screw gun.  Airplanes are put together with thousands of little screws and if you had to turn each one by hand the work would never get finished.  For the sake of the next guy to come along buy one with a clutch! I have seen guys go out and buy some cheap cordless drill and use it on the airplanes.  Then the next guy to remove that panel had to easy out half of the screws because the crosshairs were all striped out by the guy with the drill.  Whenever you buy a tool don't waste your money on junk.  Buy high quality and it will serve you well.  A screw gun with a clutch is the ticket, nothing less will do.  Personally I like the Makita driver drill the best.  It has gobs of power and the batteries last at least a full week of normal use.  You should also buy a spare battery and always keep the extra battery charged for nonstop service.  Milwaukee and Craftsman are the only others that I am aware of.  While I am on the subject of cordless tools, Snap-On's cordless ratchet is a fantastic tool if you use it the way it was intended.  It takes quite awhile to charge it, so it should always remain in the charger or you should bring it home and charge it while you are asleep.  If your working line maintenance at the gate or any other place where pneumatic power is not available and an air ratchet would really be nice, the Snap-On cordless ratchet is the next best thing. 

One of the things that I was confronted with my first night on the job was the attitude of the other mechanics.  When I was in school I was always amazed at how up beat and positive the instructors were.  I had figured that this must be an indication of the way things were in the field.  Unfortunately this is not so.  I wondered where the good attitudes went.  To prevent a misunderstanding let me clarify this subject.  I am not 1mplying that all the mechanics worked as if they were constantly unhappy.  I do mean that they lacked a certain amount of enthusiasm for the work they were doing and the company they were working for.  In time I began to understand why this was so.  The job that an aircraft mechanic has to perform becomes very repetitious.  The aircraft maintenance is scheduled and at regular periods the same procedure is done repeatedly.  The observant mechanic must be able to fight complacency and continue to look closely at things he has seen hundreds of times as if he is seeing it for the first time.  A good mechanic doesn't just change a filter and go on to the next task as if it were a checklist item.  After he is through with the work he inspects his work.  Not only does he inspect his work but he inspects the entire surroundings of whatever he is working on for anything that might be wrong.  This doesn't mean that the mechanic is so thorough that he delays the aircraft for the next day either. 

As you can see this is a formidable task.  With this in mind it becomes easier to understand why a positive attitude is so hard to maintain.  It becomes even easier to understand when you take into account the effects that bankruptcy, layoffs and airlines going out of business have on a person's attitude.  This tends to create a feeling of hopelessness in the employee, a feeling that it makes no difference what I do because there is nothing I can do about it.  This turns what was once a productive and concerned employee into someone that is just taking up space.  This becomes even more pronounced when the structure of the maintenance department is such that there are only a limited number of positions to advance to and the rate of pay increase is very low.  This is the situation at most of your commuter airlines and F.B.O.'s.  They don't hire allot of people, they don't have allot of higher positions to advance to and the rate of pay increase is very low.  Yet some mechanics thrive in this environment because at a commuter airline the individual mechanic is relied upon more heavily.  If you are the type of mechanic that likes to work as an individual and you derive more satisfaction through your' own efforts as an individual rather than as a team then you will do well in the commuter airlines and.  not as well in the majors.  At the same time you will have to be satisfied with less pay than your major airline counterpart. 

Most of the mechanics who stay with a commuter do so for reasons other than those which are job related.  In other words they stay because of the location or proximity to family and friends.  Some people flat out don't want to work on aircraft that have parts bigger and heavier than people.  A commuter or regional airline is like a close family after you have been there awhile and I have many fond memories and friends that were working there. 

After you have set yourself up with a good toolbox and the tools that you need to work with comfortably the next goal should be to set yourself up with some financial protection.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking why do I need this? Well let me tell you what it's all about.  Several years ago Frank Lorenzo, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Howard Cannon and President Jimmy Carter got this great idea to deregulate the airlines.  The government liked the idea because they would no longer be responsible for controlling the airlines, so it was passed into law.  This opened the way for a more competitive airline market.  The strong would survive and the weak would run to the courtrooms seeking chapter 11 or wait and hope that another airline will buy them out.  This in my opinion didn't do anything good for the industry or its' employees. 

It created dramatically keen competition, which as a result forced all the airlines to operate on tighter budgets and smaller profit margins.  It also made expansion a big risk, a risk so big that if the gamble didn't pay off it would doom the airline concerned.  All the people who stood to gain something because of this say, "Well that's the result of a free market place." All the employees that get laid off because of this say that it stinks.  To begin with there is a big difference between a free market and a fair market.  A free market is one where there are very few laws to govern how an airline can market their product.  This results in situations we are very familiar with, we call them fare wars.  A fair market is one that is regulated in such a way that every company has an equal opportunity to succeed and remain in business.  A free market with it's fare wars destabilizes the entire industry making it.  difficult for even the best airline to survive.  Almost everyone agrees that deregulation will result in four to five major airlines controlling all the air travel market in the future.  This is not the result of a free market system.  It is the result of an uncontrolled industry where the rules permit the formation of giant monopolies by choking off the competition and then buying them out.  When deregulation occurred the only airlines that stood to gain anything were the ones that owned holding companies and had very little debt.  As a result of the uncontrolled market in the airline industry, which has caused 169 airlines to disappear as of this writing, many people have found themselves abruptly out of work with bills to pay and families to feed. 

Another factor to consider that is a byproduct of airline mergers and bankruptcies is that we do not have an expanding job market.  Instead the job market is collapsing in size.  Lets create a hypothetical scenario to illustrate this.  Lets say you live in country served by three airlines all of which are based in your nation. Two of these airlines could be considered major airlines because they generate in excess of one billion dollars of revenue per year.  The third airline would be a national airline generating between one hundred million to one billion dollars in revenue annually.  All three airlines are completely deregulated and operate in competition with each other.  Lets say that the owners of one of the majors is feeling a little greedy one day and begins to lust for increased wealth.  For the purposes of identification lets call this one "A" airline.  The owners of "A" airline determine how low they can cut their fares and still make a profit.  In fact they may decide that for a limited time they can offer severely reduced fares and disregard making any profit at all.  "A" airline then offers these fares which severely cuts into the profits of the other major airline which I will call "B" airline. 

It also has a tremendous effect on the profits of the national airline which I will call "C" airline.  Because "B" airline can't fly without any passengers they are forced to drop their fares to maintain parity.  "C" airline finds that their load factor is dropping and they are forced to drop their fares also.  Lets assume that "B" airline is operating older aircraft than "A" airline and that because of this their operating expenses are higher than "A" airline.  Because "B" airlines operating expenses are higher than "A" airlines they will not be able to operate in this condition for very long.  Now lets assume that the owners of "B" airline are poor managers and they find themselves entering into this competition with "A" airline with a substantial amount of debt."  This puts added burden on "B" airline and within a short period of time "B" airline is forced to cease operations.  "A" airline then moves on the opportunity and makes an offer to buy the airline outright and offer "most of the employees a job." When "A" and "B" merge they both have a great number of identical positions within their corporate structure.  What will happen in this situation is that "A" airline will evaluate their personnel requirements to absorb the aircraft operated by "B" airlines and only those persons will be hired.  If "A" airline is managed with up to date modern equipment they will find that their personnel requirements will be significantly less than what was required to keep "B" airline operating.  This is what I mean when I say that the number of airline jobs is shrinking.  As of this writing there have been approximately 169 airlines that have gone out of business since deregulation began.  How many jobs do you think have been permanently lost since deregulation began? You might be wondering what happened to "C" airline.  Well they weathered the storm but not without having to reduce their fleet, cut back on destinations served and they laid off several hundred pilots, flight attendants and mechanics who in turn found that there were fewer jobs available to them than before the price war began.  Now I know this is contrary to what the President of American Airlines believes but the facts are irrefutable.  Beside do you think he would publicly admit to being the grand designer of plans to monopolize the airline industry? Heavens no! He plans to dictate what every other airline charges for a fare to a given city using his plan and if you can't afford to operate at those levels then I am sure he is more than willing to make you an offer for your aircraft and equipment. 

These displaced employees find themselves looking at several months of job hunting to find another airline job and the prospect of having to relocate to another state each time this happens.  I have personally met people who have worked for as many as ten different airlines and moved ten different times in a short span of time.  With this in mind it becomes very easy to understand why fifty percent of new A&P mechanics leave the industry, never to return after one year of experience this is why many of us have started calling ourselves "The New Gypsies".  People need more job security than the airlines can offer someone with a wife and children to take care of.  Then add to this the fact that airlines rely on Arab nations to provide them with the fuel they need to turn a profit and you can see that unless you are fortunate enough to get hired by a major straight out of school you are standing on shaky ground.  I personally recommend that you save up three to four months pay to offset any potential disasters and that you never touch it.  I also recommend that if you receive any raises that your emergency fund be increased accordingly. 

So now you have your first job and you're making money for the first time in at least a year.  You're feeling pretty high and mighty right about now.  You're probably thinking that even though you wanted to work for a major airline and get the big pay, this isn't such a bad company to work for and you'll get around to looking for something better later.  Besides you want to stay here long enough to learn something about the aircraft you are working on.  Even if something better was to come up you really wouldn't want to move because you just did that.  Well you're wrong.  Even if you spent five years at a commuter airline it might take you that long to get hired by a major airline.  These companies don't just call you up one day and ask you if you want to work for them.  They're looking for people with more motivation than that and they find them. 

Also by continuing to send resumes and fill out applications you could very easily offset a disaster if you are accepted by a major airline shortly after being laid off from a commuter.  Tim Boswell one of the best lead mechanics and friend that I have ever had, told me that the day you stop looking for a job is the day you are unemployed.  In this line of work with all the chapter eleven's and mergers that take place you can't stop looking for a job, no matter who you work for.  To look at it more closely, if you were to continue to canvas for a better job for say six months and while doing so you became laid off from your present job, you would already have a six month head start on finding another job.  You can't be fired by looking for better employment.  If your boss were to mention to you that he recently got a call from Delta about an application you filed with them and that he wasn't happy about it.  Tell him that you are a success oriented person and that you thought that this was the reason that he hired you.  Tell him that you enjoy working for the company and want to do well and that this is your primary reason for working there, but since you are a success oriented person you are constantly looking for something that might be better.  This should straighten the situation out.  Who knows, you may have that major airline job sooner than you think.  You don't even have the opportunity if you don't apply.  Also since the majors only keep your resume on file for a year, if you go eighteen months without sending them anything, your file is cleared and they don't know you anymore.  If that airline were to purchase new aircraft or open a new hub in those six months you missed your golden opportunity. 

If you are fortunate enough to work for a commuter airline that is a subsidiary of a national or major airline you already have one foot in the door for a higher paying position.  In most of these situations the major airline will requisition personnel from within the company.  There usually is a company bulletin board where the new positions that are available are posted for all to see.  The listings will be active for usually a three week period to provide ample time for all persons interested in the position to apply.  After that time each applicant that meets the basic qualifications is interviewed and the best man out of that group wins.  To apply for the job you will probably have to see the personnel department or your boss or both, depending on how your company operates.  Don't be afraid to do so.  Many people will tell you that you could be fired by pursuing the position or they will tell you that there is something about the job that you wont like, such as, "Miami is a dangerous place to live because of the crime rate." Pay no attention to them.  If you weren't the kind of person that is always looking for a new challenge or employment opportunity there would be something seriously wrong with you.  You will find that timid people who are afraid to take risks try to scare people who are unafraid, because if they succeed at it they have drawn attention away from themselves.  Always remember, misery loves company. 

In my situation I had worked for my commuter airline for fourteen months and had reached the point where I was running out of new things to do.  All that was left for me was to rise to the position of inspector and Lord knows we already had enough of them.  I would have received my taxi and run up license if my boss had kept up with the paperwork, but that didn't matter much either because I was already performing every taxi and run up I could get my hands on, I just wasn't doing it by myself.  I was beginning to feel as if I was spinning my wheels.  Then two positions in Miami became available for mechanics. 

My lead mechanic Tim Boswell and I went to the personnel office to apply and later that week I went down to Miami to scope the situation out.  I came back after talking with several people there quite impressed with the operation.  The next thing I knew I got called in for an interview.  The interview went fairly well and I was told that I would be notified regardless of acceptance within two weeks.  As it turned out I got the position. 

Before I applied and during my waiting period all sorts of people were telling me about how bad the crime rate was and that Miami was like living in a battle zone.  The only difference between them and me was that I had been there and they hadn't.  One of our parts' men Jeff Alexander had been in Miami and told me that it was so scary down there he just stayed in his hotel room on N.W.  36th St.  Well that part of town isn't the prettiest or the safest place to be at night.  I can understand why he felt that way.  I intended to live in Hallandale, FL.  just twenty-five miles north of Miami in a much nicer area.  If you are planning to move somewhere use those flight privileges to your advantage.  Scope out the area.  If you look at the long term picture you can help yourself immensely by using your flight privileges to locate housing and learn about cities that you may not plan to live in for years down the road.  Try to find out what kind of special problems you are going to encounter before you get there.  Get your immediate questions answered and then develop new ones.  Never take what someone says about a town at face value, find out for yourself.  As it turned out I lived in one of the best apartments I have ever had, the rent was reasonable, I went to the beach about three times a week, got re-certified as a scuba diver and went diving on wrecks and reefs, ate at all kinds of restaurants and had a marvelous time.  Does that sound like living in a battle zone? 

The quality of maintenance on the aircraft is determined by where you work, who you work for, the age of the aircraft in question and the prevailing moral of the mechanics.  If moral is high then so will the standard of maintenance.  The complexity of the aircraft is also a factor to be considered.  When I worked for the commuter airline, in my opinion, the level of maintenance could only be rivaled by N.A.S.A.  Some people might tell you that considering the Challenger accident that doesn't say much but I disagree.  If I had worked for some other commuter airline that flew older aircraft there would have been all sorts of age related problems to deal with on a daily basis. 

We had several mechanics that had worked for other regional airlines and they told me stories about fasteners that were three to four sizes larger than standard because they had sheared and had to be drilled out to a larger size several times and that the same thing was occurring with rivets on the airplanes.  Fortunately for me the aircraft that I was working with were Dornier 228's that were straight from the factory.  When you have to deal with older aircraft there are going to be a lot more delays and grounded aircraft due to unexpected age problems developing with the aircraft.  This will have an effect on the work load and as a result the morale as well. At the commuter I didn't have to worry about the condition of the aircraft when they flew the next day.  I had a strong faith in both the airplanes and the people who were working on them.  It really was a sheltered existence in comparison to what I.  experienced when I was promoted to jets.  You should also keep in mind the complexity level of the aircraft.  The more bells and whistles and auxiliary equipment the aircraft has the more it is prone to breaking down.  If the item that breaks is on the minimum equipment list the bird is grounded. 

The size of the aircraft is another consideration.  This will be one of the first things a mechanic will have to contend with especially if the aircraft is the Boeing 747.  If you have a burning desire to work on the largest commercial aircraft in the world there has to be a little trapeze artist in your blood or the aircraft is going to terrify you.  It is 63 feet from the ground to the top of the tail and if you are working heavy maintenance on the 747 you will have to go up there to remove the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer so the spar can be inspected.  You may also have to go back up there to remove any broken screws that had to be drilled out to get the leading edge off If you don't like heights this is not the airplane to be working on.  When I was called upon to remove the broken screws it terrified me, but after spending some time up there you tend to get used to it.  I find that getting up there is the scariest part and I always seem to get white knuckled after I pass above the horizontal stabilizer and can get a panoramic view of the hangar from about fifty feet off the ground.  At most places you will get up to the vertical stabilizer in a cherry picker similar to the ones used by the telephone company but without the truck and with a reach of at least 80 ft.  If you find that you are having difficulty working high just take your time.  Usually no one is going to expect you to do the work fast up there. 

You may be fortunate enough to have scaffolding that will reach that high and if you are, consider yourself very lucky.  Even if the aircraft is a DC-9 you can have two people working on separate parts of the aircraft forty feet away from each other and create problems for each other.  A case in point occurred when I had to energize the hydraulic system on a DC-9 to bring the flaps down for adjustments.  My lead mechanic was standing behind me and I was in the left seat.  I asked him to check and make sure the aircraft was clear before I energized the system because I knew there were people working on both engines.  I assumed that he would call out that hydraulics were coming on but he didn't.  After looking out both passenger doors he told me to go ahead.  I then flipped on the beacon and energized hydraulics and lowered the flaps.  When I climbed down from the cockpit one of the mechanics that was working on an engine was waiting to tear me a new asshole.  If he had not engaged the thrust reverser into the bypass position the thrust reversers could have moved to the open position and might have severed both his arms.  The message here is, don't rely on anybody to do anything for you that is safety related.0n a small airplane you can stick your head out the window and speak to people directly,0n the big ones you can't.  You have to put forth a little more effort to make sure the job gets done safely.  After this I decided that it might be best to get one of those small bullhorns from Radio Shack for about ten bucks and stick it in the cockpit of the aircraft I was working on.  This way I wouldn't have to walk all the way around the aircraft to tell everybody that hydraulics were coming on.  If you decide to do this yourself don't forget to remove it from the plane before it leaves or the pilots will have a new play toy. 

Another aspect of airline maintenance that will amaze the new mechanic is the amount of aircraft cannibalism and the lack of spare parts.  If an aircraft breaks down and the part is not an inexpensive or common item you will be required to remove a part from a good aircraft that is used for training or grounded for some other reason and put it on the broken airplane.  Some of these items are time limited or cycle limited and therefore must be kept track of by some recluse in an office somewhere.  Because of this you will have to record the serial and part number of the item and make the appropriate logbook entries for the repair.  In my opinion this is a lousy way to run an airline, but the man in the big office thinks one thing only and that's money.  However in many instances it takes the mechanic twice as long to perform repairs this way.  This is time that could be used to better the airline by freeing the mechanic to do other things.  In short this is wasted time and wasted time cost just as much money.  If the man in the big office would only realize this we would all be safer and happier for it.  Granted it is not cost effective to keep all the spare parts necessary to prevent cannibalism.  Some of these parts cost thousands of dollars and if you only need one of them a year it doesn't make good financial sense to keep one on hand all the time. Mechanics hate with a passion having to do this extra work. 

Also something that you may not have even considered is the number of times an airline borrows a part from another airline for temporary use, only to have a mechanic remove and replace the borrowed part some time later so it can be returned to the lender airline when a new part has finally arrived to replace it.  This situation is worse than ordering a part Aircraft On Ground (A.O.G.).  The reason I say this is that the lender airline charges the borrower for the time that is put on the borrowed part.  In most cases the rates are astronomical.  If you see your airline doing this allot you can be sure the airline is in financial trouble or soon will be.  In some circumstances having the part on hand might make some sense, but for the majority of situations if the parts department can borrow one from another airline or yank one off another airplane, that's the way they do it. 

One thing to note regarding the parts department, if you notice that there aren't many parts in it and that the parts you would normally expect to be available are not being ordered, your company is experiencing severe financial difficulties.  If there is only one tire gauge in the whole shop and none are being ordered, that should tell you that money isn't available for it and that necessities have become a luxury.  In situations like this I have seen mechanics buy their own equipment just so they wont have to deal with this kind of headache. 

After you have acquired several months of experience you will find that you are beginning to fit in and become a smooth running member of the team.  You will start to feel you are a part of something special and for me there is nothing quite like that feeling.  You will find that you have days when you come home just swelling with pride over how well you have done last night.  Sometimes you are so excited that you can hardly sleep even though you should be completely exhausted.  Then there will be those days where you really learned something because the airplane kicked your ass.  Not many people realize this but airplanes will teach you about themselves.  They are excellent instructors, because what they teach you, you will never forget for the rest of your life.  So if you find that you can't figure out what's wrong with the airplane and you have tried everything you can think of and come up empty.  Go get a cup of coffee and meditate on it a little.  Look at the data the airplane is giving you.  Listen to what the airplane is saying with its data and there the answer will be, staring you in the face.  This by no means is a substitute for knowing the aircraft, you have to have at least that much to listen to what the bird is telling you.  On nights when the airplane has taught you a lesson you will find it a very humbling experience.

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