Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft Mechanic

Fred Robel

25 Years Experience

Au Gres, MI

Male, 46

I'm a licensed Aircraft Mechanic & Inspector with twenty-plus years in the field. I've had a varied career so far, with time spent in the sheetmetal, mechanic, and inspection specialties. Most of my time is on heavy Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft, of the passenger, cargo, and experimental type. This career isn't for everyone, but I enjoy it.

Please do NOT ask me to troubleshoot problems with your airplane, that is not what this Q&A is for.

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108 Questions


Last Answer on October 11, 2017

Best Rated

Is it true that sitting toward the back of the plane increases the likelihood of survival in a plane crash?

Asked by bilton biggsby almost 5 years ago

I have always heard that too, though I don’t know for sure if it is true. That is where the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) is typically located, and they usually survive crashes (though they are practically magically armored by design to do so). If it was me, based on nothing but knowing about the aircraft structure, I would feel safest over the wing area, as close as I could sit to the centerline of the wings. That center wingbox area is one of the beefiest parts of structure that you will ever see on an airplane. Though that does put you closer to the fuel tanks, so that is kind of a risk trade off. It probably comes down to luck more than anything, relating to how the airplane were to hit the ground. All that speculation said, keep in mind your statistics, and remember that flying is super safe when measured by almost any standard. Miles flown per year, miles per passenger, etc. It is a very safety conscious industry, staffed by skilled professionals. When I fly, I really do not even consider the chance of crashing, it is so remote.

What do you see as the future of air travel? Are planes going to get bigger, faster, or more fuel efficient? Aren't we going to HAVE to find new technologies before we run out of oil?

Asked by Sam over 4 years ago

I don't know really. But if I were to speculate, first I'd say that airplanes probably won't get much bigger. The A380 and B747 are pretty darn big, and pretty much push the limit of our existing infrastructure. I also don't know that I'd like to see that many people up in the air at the same time in one plane. I think we'll see faster airplanes, when the engineers get the sonic boom suppression issue licked. Once that happens, we'll start to see things like the Concorde in action again I hope. Fuel efficiency will improve, as a matter of course I think. That's one of the big selling points for the aircraft and engine manufacturers to talk about. We haven't hit the wall on the limits of the turbine engine yet I don't think. Pratt & Whitney with their new Geared Fan technology is just starting to go in a new direction commercially. I think it might be the next big thing for aircraft engines. To address new tech for an oil deprived future? I believe that companies like GE, Rolls Royce, and Pratt & Whitney (among others) are already working on that. It isn't out in the public eye yet though. I would theorize on an all electric ducted fan engine if it were me. Most of the current advanced turbofan's thrust is generated by the bypass air, that never even goes though the combustion core of an engine. Replacing the internal combustion turbine altogether is a natural next step. Battery and/or electrical generation technology is the biggest hurdle to this next step right now. I think air travel has an exciting future. There will be problems along the way, there always are. I hope I get to see what's in store.

Do you feel you're compensated fairly? Are aircraft mechanics unionized?

Asked by steve o over 4 years ago

Short answers would be, no, and some; respectively. I have never worked in a unionized place. I know most of the major airlines are unionized though. But the majority of aircraft mechanics are not unionized. As far as compensation; I would have to say I don't feel I am paid fairly. But I am paid kind of like the industry indicates. So, in that regard, it's fair(?) I will let you decide. My current position is as a QC inspector. I am salaried at 57K/year. For that pay, I am responsible for all my aircraft inspections, all the work that I sign behind mechanics on, and the safety of any airplane that I release. Though I am working behind an airline or repair station certificate, my license is also on the line every time I sign for something. So apart from the safety aspect, I could lose my means to make my living if I screw up. I live in Northern Michigan, so that salary is not so bad really. My family and I live simply, and it is enough as a single income. But, to throw some perspective on it. I have seen jobs advertised for the New York City area, that pay between 25 and 30 dollars per hour. Which, is NOT enough to get by on usually, unless you are a single guy, living simply. Which is why most aircraft mechanics in those metropolitan areas, work more than one job. So keep that in mind. That the mechanics and inspectors that are working on that plane you fly on, are sometimes working a full time job, plus another part or full time job. The aircraft industry is notorious for underpaying it's workers in my opinion. My first job out of A&P school, at a medium sized cargo company on big jets, was for 7 dollars an hour. Back in 1993.

Are you able to fly free or at some significant discount?

Asked by zzzach over 4 years ago

At my current job, no I can't get any discounts or free flights. It depends on who you work for. If you work for an actual passenger airline, there is usually an employee discount of some kind, or free flying via standby status. Some other employers have arrangements with airlines for discounts.

Have you heard whether they are getting anywhere sorting out the Dreamliner issues? Have the things they've found been serious, or do you still think it fell victim to media exaggerations?

Asked by Doryas over 4 years ago

I have seen where Boeing has completed the flight tests with a new and improved main battery assembly.  Which consists of taking the existing cells, adding space and insulation in between them, and installing them into a double walled 'armored' battery enclosure box; which also features improved airflow cooling.  This box is also sealed, and vented to the exterior.  So even if something happens to the battery inside, all fumes, smoke, etc will be vented outside, and be no danger to the airplane's occupants.

I think the battery issue is serious.  In as much as anything that can cause a fire on board an airplane is a serious issue.  The media did jump all over it pretty zealously; and in all fairness, they should be falling over each other to give equal coverage to this improved battery system that is almost ready for certification.

The battery issue is the only really serious issue that I've read about.  Fuel seepage, and whatever else there was, are really just teething problems typical of new aircraft in general. Those issues will be dealt with as well as a matter of course.

I read that United Airlines is scheduling a return to service for the 787 for June 2013.  With the assumption that the FAA will release the aircraft for flight by then.  

Research the problems that Tesla Motors had with their Roadster model electric sports car; as far as battery overheating and fires.  The batteries used in that car were also of the Lithium Ion type, and very similar problems were encountered to the Boeing 787 situation.  There was a lot of knowledge learned with those problems years ago.  I'm actually pretty disappointed that Boeing did not avail themselves of those lessons learned.

Is it the LAW that pilots have to inform passengers when a delay is due to a mechanical problem? I've been on several flights where that happened and just thought 'I really don't want to hear that, why didn't they just tell me it was a storm system?'

Asked by Chris almost 5 years ago

Now, I won’t cheat and try to find out before I answer, though I may afterwards. I am not aware of any law or regulation that commands a flight crew to be 100% honest about flight delays with their passengers. It may be an airline policy, or just that particular crew being honest. It shouldn’t upset you, other than the fact that you are delayed. There will be no "baling wire and duct tape" repairs going on just to get you out of the gate; trust me. Either it will get fixed right in a certain time period while you sit there, or they will deplane you and make other plans. Really it’s a common thing to have last minute problems. Usually they are not flight critical and can be deferred, such as a light burned out, or a climate control not keeping the inside temp right. Other things, like a tire or brake change, or a scheduled maintenance that just ended up taking a few extra minutes, is all that it is. You know how it can be; the second you tell someone that a certain simple job will take a half hour to do, that’s when Murphy’s Law kicks in and makes something a little harder. All in all, I’d rather the airline was honest with me about such things. That way you know you can trust them about other things, which may be more important for you to know. :)

This AMA is sweet thanks! Are there meaningful differences in safety records for accredited Western airlines? Is there any concern that a budget airline like AirTran or Frontier is actually less safe than Delta or American?

Asked by Chris Hansen over 4 years ago

There is no difference in the records or maintenance requirements for US certified air carriers. They are all held to the same high standard. Whether you are talking about the smallest mom and pop airline with a Cessna 310 as their only airplane, or American Airlines; they all have to toe a very stringent line with the FAA. I wouldn't be any more or less concerned with safety with any one airline over another.