When people think of careers in aviation, they often think of pilots and flight attendants. But the greatest opportunity in the airline industry lies with technicians and mechanics. According to the 2018 Boeing Pilot & Technician Outlook, over the next 20 years the aviation industry will need more than 750,000 aircraft technicians.
One reason for the technician shortage is that high school graduates perceive college as a preferred career path — although the numbers tell a different story: The average salary for an aviation technician is around $84,000 a year while the national median household income of $59,039. Acquiring the airframe and powerplant licenses needed to work on airplanes will take about two years at a reputable school.
William W. Arndt, vice president of maintenance and engineering at Piedmont Airlines, can attest to these opportunities.
“I started out as a mechanic and moved myself up through the ranks,” Arndt says. “I worked on my grandfather’s farm. As far as mechanical ability goes, I pretty much grew up with it.”
Dale Witmer, regional maintenance manager for Piedmont, echoes that. “When I was a teenager I started working on cars. I was a member of the military and I took a career aptitude test,” he says. “I quickly fell in love with working on military jets.”
Both Witmer and Arndt think aviation careers should be promoted to mechanically-inclined students in high school and vocational schools. “There’s a huge shortage coming of aviation mechanics,” says Witmer. Arndt adds, “Students in vocational schools and shop classes — they are the people who are good with their hands, and that’s exactly what we need.”
Piedmont will hire more than 125 mechanics in 2019. “We’re looking for people who like to take things apart and put them back together,” says Witmer. “There is nothing better than watching a plane take off in the morning and knowing that your work overnight made that flight possible.”