Aviation Electrician

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Aircraft electricians are responsible for the installation, repair, testing, and maintenance of the aviation electrical systems in aircraft of various types and sizes.

They usually work for either aviation services companies or aircraft manufacturers.

Typically, they work on such systems as propulsion, lighting, electronics, avionics, and generator systems on-board aircraft and spacecraft.

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

Aviation electricians can work on any kind of aircraft, even on spacecraft, and be located in any part of the country.

They can be employed by:

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

This is significant work and requires a high level of skill.

Aircraft electricians ensure the safety of the public both on the ground and in the air.

There are two types of aircraft electrician:

  • Maintenance aviation electrician.
  • Manufacturing aviation electrician.

Plane manufacturers are the primary employer of aviation electricians and provide stable jobs.

Most of the maintenance aviation electricians are employed by airports, airlines, and aviation maintenance subcontractors.

Aviation Electricians are Held to 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 as fire on an aircraft, and faulty electrical installations are what may cause them, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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

Therefore, aviation electricians should comply with the highest safety standards.

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

As it reached the 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.

The 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.

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 shorted 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.

Testing the systems is a vast part of the job as well as actively working on them.

Redundancy Means There Is More Than One Way 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 APU 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 110 vAC 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.

Paperwork Is Almost As Important As Wiring For Aviation Electricians

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

Whether they are a part of conducting maintenance in the field or malfunctioning process, aviation electricians should accurately record what parts they use and what work they’ve done to comply with the FAA regulations.

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

According to the FAA regulations, aircraft electricians 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 of a plane.

Electricians should know how to read and understand special notices from the FAA, called Airworthiness Directives and Advisory Circulars.

They provide guidelines and rules regarding the aircraft in general and particular types of aircraft.

They cover approved installation, maintenance, and operating procedures for electrical equipment.

Becoming an Aircraft Electrician

Commonly, aircraft electricians are educated at trade schools.

Training schools approved by FAA cover all aspects of aircraft maintenance.

However, usually, they offer special programs for electronics and electrical technicians.

When hiring aviation electricians, many employers look for degrees or certificates from these programs.

In many regions, there are numerous unions, and the process for becoming an aviation electrician is very similar to the apprenticeship system non-aviation electricians go through.

Apprentices work under supervision for some years before they can move to the journeyman level and start working independently.

Some employers, such as airplane manufacturers or contracted aviation maintenance companies, are large enough to hold their in-house training programs.

A&P Certificate

Aircraft electricians are officially licensed by the FAA’s mechanic certification system.

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

These certificates may be required for some jobs.

Also, they provide higher pay and faster route in the field for nearly all aerospace electrical jobs.

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

Although, most technicians attend a technical school or prep course to obtain this certification.

Aircraft 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 segments of the profession, the pay is comparable.

According to a survey of starting salaries and hourly rates, the payment from a few major employers is 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.

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

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

However, many electricians who handle only components or non-flight-critical systems aren’t required to have an A&P.

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

The job opportunities should also increase because of such factors as the burgeoning civilian space industry.

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