We all know that taking care of the mechanical health of your aircraft is step one in safety, but how do you know which type of airplane mechanic should work on your plane? Here’s a general overview of the types of aviation mechanics, according to FAA Safety Briefing, the FAA’s publication on GA news and information.
Choosing the type of airplane mechanic usually is connected to the work your aircraft needs. But often, you won’t know until the problem is diagnosed.
There are generally three types of airplane maintenance mechanics: airframe and powerplant mechanic (A&P), an inspection authorization endorsed mechanic (IA), or an FAA certificated repair station. Here’s an overview of who to go to and for what.
For general maintenance: Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic (A&P)
A&Ps, also known as aviation maintenance technicians, are usually called upon for routine aircraft maintenance, such as examining engines, conducting 100-hour inspections, replacing and repairing defective parts, repairing minor structural damage, and keeping corrosion under control.
To become a certificated A&P aircraft mechanic (14 CFR part 65), a person must be at least 18 years old, read, write, and speak English, and acquire 18 months of practical experience for either airframe or powerplant certification, or 30 months of practical experience concurrently for both airframe and powerplant.
One can also complete the training by attending an accredited part 147 maintenance school. Following training, the student must pass three tests – written, oral and practical – to become certified.
For aircraft inspections: Inspection Authorization Mechanic (IA)
An IA is essentially an FAA-licensed A&P mechanic with the additional endorsement of “inspection authority” issued on a FAA Form 8310-5 (IA card). As such, IAs are authorized to do progressive and annual aircraft inspections, in addition to a variety of maintenance and alterations than non-authorized A&Ps. The benefit of this is you can get your repair work done and sign-off paperwork done at the same time, saving time and money.
In addition to inspections, IAs can also sign for an aircraft’s return back to service after major repairs (Form 337), such as the repair or replacement of major control surfaces, spars, wing and tail surface brace struts, axle replacements, and major repairs to the powerplant.
To earn an IA designation, an A&P mechanic must train an additional three years (two years active), have available equipment and a fixed base of operations, pass an inspection-specific written test, and meet the requirements in 14 CFR part 65.91.
For large repairs: Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Station (MRO)
If your aircraft is ever in need of major repairs on complex components, such as retractable landing gear assemblies, reciprocating and turbine engines, and auxiliary power units, the smart move may be an Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Station (MRO), aka a repair station.
A good repair station with certified, experienced mechanics will have the specialized equipment and authorizations needed for complex repairs, such as avionics and electronics overhauls, mechanical actuators, fuel systems, and carburetors. Keep in mind that different stations might specialize in areas of aircraft maintenance, but all must adhere to the regulations and policies laid out in 14 CFR part 145.
To obtain a repair station certification, an applicant must successfully complete a five-stage process: pre-application, the formal application, document compliance, demonstration and inspection, and certification.