A&P Mechanics – Certified for a Reason

Closeup of airplane engine in a hangar

In some areas of the country, getting your A&P (airframe and powerplant) certification is a ticket to a career of rewarding work — work that entails keeping hundreds of thousands of aircraft safe for a nation full of travelers. Curious about the allure of the aviation industry and the mechanics drawn to it, we listened in on the social conversation and spoke with Aerotek contractor, DeVaughan Alford, a twenty-year veteran of the field, for insights about the fascinating field.

Getting started

As with every skilled trade, the burning question people have considering a career is: “How do I get started?” In the case of A&P mechanics, the question is specific: “Where and how should I get my A&P certification?”

On the popular A&P mechanics subreddit r/AirframeAndPowerplant, an aspiring mechanic was looking for advice on getting his A&P certification. The advice from the subreddit community was — as usual — friendly, constructive and actionable:

One poster summed up his experience and recommendation in succinct detail: “ I have found in the long run, the school doesn't matter. Some schools are better for helping land your first job, but a well written resume and some effort in job searching eliminates that advantage. The curriculum is set by the FAA so they all teach the same material, and you have to pass the same tests. 7 years into my career (GA, manufacturing and airline) I've found A&P school was like elementary school for a job requiring a college degree. You will learn most of your skills on the job with experience. Good troubleshooting skills are something you just learn over time. My suggestion is don't spend $50k at a fancy private school. Find a junior/community college with a program. I went to Columbus State Community College in Ohio. The whole program cost me about $15k, so I had half the debt of some of my coworkers, but we all had the same A&P certificate.”

One mechanic’s tale

When we first spoke with DeVaughan Alford earlier this spring, he had just celebrated his twenty -year career mark as an A&P mechanic. Aerotek found DeVaughan his current position at one of the nation’s largest aircraft service centers near Wilmington, Delaware — not too far from where DeVaughan first discovered his trade as a teen growing up in Philadelphia.

“I was fresh out of high school, not sure what I wanted to do when I got a job fueling aircraft at the Philadelphia International Airport. One of the mechanics I worked with said, ‘you look like you’re good at this, you should go to school for it.’ That was my original motivation.”

Tough going early on

As with many career choices, there are often challenges when starting out that can be daunting. DeVaughan recounts his. “It was tough in the beginning, to be honest. After a year working my way up I realized I needed to get my A&P certification and enrolled in school. I couldn’t afford to stop working so I worked full-time and went to school at night.”

“It was tough, real tough going, early on. I almost quit school. But my wife and I had a daughter on the way and that ended up being my inspiration for keeping on. It was worth it, in the end.”

“Got each other’s backs”

It’s very clear that taking pride in your work is important as an A&P mechanic is important, but understanding  that people’s lives depends on your work is above all else. Back on the popular r/AirframeAndPowerplant subreddit, their community’s statement of purpose reads like a pledge. A pledge that reveals the unique nature of the A&P mechanic. Many of us take our jobs and careers seriously. But reading the A&P community’s statement, we realize there is something special about this breed of mechanics, the specialists ultimately responsible for all types of aircraft performing flawlessly when people’s lives depend on it.

We asked DeVaughan if he felt this type of pressure on the job. “Yes, we’re all aware of how much safety matters and how one small mistake can have big consequences if we’re not careful, every minute of our shift.“

“We’re also aware that everybody has stresses in life that we sometimes bring to work. A while back I was working with a guy, a great mechanic, but he was going through some tough times at home. After one shift I found a loose screwdriver he left behind in a place where it could’ve done some serious damage in flight. You look over each other’s shoulders’; you got each other’s backs. That’s all I was doing. Sometimes, it’s pretty important that we do.”

Doing, teaching and leading

With twenty years as an award-winning A&P mechanic (Flight Safety Master Technician for Gulfstream G-4, October 2006), we asked DeVaughan how much teaching he does on the job.

“Well I’ve been mentoring new mechanics for a lot of years. I give them advice and try to guide them. I figure the best thing I can do for them is to save them the time and trouble of making the type of mistakes I made when I was still learning.”

As for his own development, we asked DeVaughan where he saw his career heading over the next few years. ”Well, I love what I do and it’s hard for me to imagine not working directly on these aircraft. But it’s hard work, working in tight places all day. I can see myself in a couple of years maybe moving into a crew chief job, maybe working for the FAA as a quality control specialists. Who knows, maybe an office job is in the cards.”

Parting thoughts

We asked DeVaughan what advice he’d offer himself if he was just now entering the trade as a freshly certified A&P mechanic. “I’d say the same thing that I tell young mechanics I work with coming up today. It’s going to be rough, and it’s going to be hard. But stick with it. And don’t be afraid to travel. Especially in today’s market, you have to be willing to move around. If you are, there’s decent money to be made. Plus, you get to see the world, gain a lot of experiences and meet a lot of very interesting people.”

Twenty years as an aviation services mechanic makes DeVaughan Alford the type of seasoned specialist worth listening to. If you’re a mechanic inspired by his career and advice, we’d love to work with you. Check out our current A&P mechanics opportunities or create or modify your free Aerotek career account today.

DeVaughan Alford appears courtesy of Senior Professional Recruiter, Matthew WeMett.