Aviation Electrician

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Aviation electricians install, repair, test, and maintain the electrical systems in aircraft of various types and sizes.

Their work involves propulsion, lighting, electronics, avionics, and generator systems onboard aircraft and spacecraft.

They also handle systems that connect the aircraft to the main electrical grid or starter carts while they are on the ground.

They can be employed by the following groups that require their high skill level:

  • Airlines and airports
  • Commercial aircraft manufacturers
  • Government and military contractors
  • Aerospace service companies
  • MEDEVAC helicopter services

There are two types of aviation electricians:

  • Maintenance aviation electrician
  • Manufacturing aviation electrician

The former gets primarily employed by airports, airlines, and aviation maintenance subcontractors, while the latter by plane manufacturers.

Regardless of their employment, both jobs ensure the safety of the public, both on the ground and in the air.

Compliance with the Highest Safety Standards

Safety is an essential part of all electrical work, but it’s especially crucial in the aviation industry.

“Nothing is more frightening to pilots than fire on an aircraft, and faulty electrical installations are what may cause them,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Here are three examples of such a case:

  • In January 2013, an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 787 departed for Tokyo from a western Japan city.

As it reached cruising altitude, the copilot noticed a fire warning indicator.

And almost immediately, the smell of smoke filled the cockpit.

  • A few days earlier, a Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 caught on fire right after landing in Boston.

This happened due to a malfunctioning battery pack in a forward avionics bay.

  • The ANA pilots witnessed a similar disaster, but this time, at 30,000 feet.

They declared an emergency right away and turned to the closest airport.

Some moments later, the plane landed, came to a stop, and deployed emergency exit clutches to evacuate 137 passengers and the crew.

A fire on an aircraft can quickly spread through the entire machine before it can land safely.

So aviation electricians should comply with the highest safety standards.

Low Voltages, High Importance

Most electrical systems in aircraft run on 230 volts or less, while the control systems operate under 30 volts almost entirely.

The low voltages don’t mean they aren’t important.

Most military and commercial aircraft use so-called “fly-by-wire” systems.

These are control systems that rely completely on electrical and electronic signaling instead of old-fashioned mechanical linkages.

With a shortened wire harness, the aircraft can go out of control and end up in a catastrophic situation.

These fly-by-wire systems are designed to reduce the possibility of a short.

So aviation electricians need an extremely high level of attention to detail, especially with testing the systems.

Sources to Power a Plane

When it comes to electrical requirements, planes have to be self-sustained.

Aviation electricians install and wire up generators that tap into power from the jet engines.

The secondary device is called an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU).

This is a small generator that powers some loads when the engines are off and the plane is on the ground.

Voltage cascades through a range of transformers and rectifiers from generators and APUs to meet various demands of the aircraft.

They may include:

  • Pumps and heaters
  • Overhead lighting
  • Galley ovens
  • Instrumentation and radar
  • Control motors and compressors
  • Standards 110v AC outlets

However, for some flight-critical systems, APU doesn’t provide enough redundancy.

So, in the event of an emergency, various battery banks should be installed throughout the aircraft.

In the ANA 787 incident, the importance of installing and sizing those correctly was obvious.

This is a stark reminder that aviation electricians should be extremely well-versed, attentive, and skilled in passenger aircraft jobs.

Another emergency system that electricians handle is the Ram Air Turbine.

It is virtually a mini-version of the same wind turbine providing clean energy on the ground.

As the aircraft moves, the wind flows past the blades and is spun to generate emergency power during the flight.

Dealing with Important Paperwork

The electrical system schematics of modern jet aircraft are extremely complex.

Whether they are a part of conducting maintenance in the field or malfunctioning processes, aviation electricians should accurately record…

  • What parts they have used
  • What work they have done

Doing so ensures compliance with the FAA regulations.

They should also understand the electromagnetic fields generated by electrical equipment and wiring.

According to the FAA regulations, they should install the equipment and wiring carefully to prevent stray Radio Frequency energy from interfering with sensitive control and navigation systems.

For the same reason, the FAA requires you to turn off your cell phone on board a plane.

Also, they should know and understand special notices from the FAA, called Airworthiness Directives and Advisory Circulars.

These circulars…

  • Provide guidelines and rules regarding the aircraft in general and particular types of aircraft
  • Cover approved installation, maintenance, and operating procedures for electrical equipment

Becoming an Aviation Electrician

Generally, aspiring aviation electricians receive education and training at FAA-approved trade schools.

There, you’ll learn all aspects of aircraft maintenance.

Also, attending one ensures employers who prefer to hire candidates with degrees or certificates will notice you.

Later on, you’ll go through an apprenticeship under the direct supervision of senior aviation electricians.

Some employers, like airplane manufacturers and contracted aviation maintenance companies, will sponsor and hold in-house apprenticeship programs.

Upon completion, you can move from being an apprentice to a journeyman, and start working independently.

A&P Certificate

Aviation electricians receive their licenses from the FAA’s mechanic certification system.

The Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) Certificate covers a wide range of aircraft-specific electrical and mechanical systems.

Some jobs may require that you hold such a certificate, which can provide you with job preference and higher pay.

In general, all electricians who will work directly on a plane without any supervision should have an A&P certification.

But those who handle only components or non-flight-critical systems aren’t required to have an A&P.

Also, this certificate can take you to a faster route to nearly all aerospace electrical jobs.

You can take the test for an A&P certificate directly at the FAA.

Aviation Electrician Salaries and Job Prospects

With their specialized knowledge and critical role in assembly and maintenance, aviation electricians receive a decent salary.

Between the two types of this profession, the pay is comparable.

According to a survey, the starting salaries and hourly rates from a few major employers are as follows (the data is provided solely for illustrative purposes):

  • Helicopter or fighter jet maintenance electrician with affordable engineering services – $27.05/hour.
  • Production electrician with bosch – $24 to $29/hour.
  • Assembly electrician for Boeing Corporation – $87,000 to $95,000.

Those with the FAA A&P certification can earn a higher income.

The FAA projects the traffic of commercial aviation to increase by 2-3% by 2033, so the demand for aviation electricians will remain high.

Job opportunities should also increase because of the rapidly flourishing civilian space industry.

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