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how to be an ...

aircraft
maintenance
engineer
“ Aircraft technology ranges
from the simple wicker basket


and sandbags of a hot-air
balloon, to the carbon fibre
and fully digital systems of
modern jets.
How to be an aircraft
maintenance engineer
Aircraft technology ranges from the
simple wicker basket and sandbags of a
hot-air balloon, to the carbon fibre and
fully digital systems of modern jets.
For every aircraft you see in flight, there
are aircraft maintenance engineers back
in the hangar who have worked to ensure
that the aircraft is safe to fly. Maintaining
aircraft is a highly specialised job that
requires precise technical knowledge and
skills. Aircraft maintenance engineers are
vital to aviation; without them, no one Engineers are the nuts and bolts of aviation.
could fly safely.

There are two sorts of aircraft


maintenance engineer, those who are
Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers
(LAMEs), and those who are not. Don’t
be put off by the name; LAME is
pronounced lay–mee not lame.
Both can repair a broken or faulty
aircraft, but only a LAME can certify
that it is safe to fly. Those who don’t
have a licence (unlicensed maintenance
engineers) must have all their work
supervised and approved by a LAME.
There are fewer than 1600 LAMEs in
New Zealand.

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Becoming a licensed
engineer
Being a LAME is a highly skilled and
responsible job, and it usually takes
between four and five years of study
and practical experience to qualify. This
is just the beginning for most LAMEs,
however, who do more study and gain
more experience toward specialising in
the aircraft they most want to work on.

Getting started
You can start your training at any time,
but you cannot become a qualified
LAME until you are 21. Training involves
both practical experience and theory
exams.
"Being a LAME is very rewarding because
you can take something that is broken,
find out what’s wrong with it, and fix it.
However, there is a huge amount of
responsibility that goes with the
position." (LAME Owen Stewart)

Four ways to become a LAME


There are four different paths you can
take to become a LAME.
• The first path is to learn on the job
under the guidance of an aircraft
maintenance organisation. You will
spend five years as a trainee, gaining
practical experience and passing your
exams as you go. At the end of the five
years you can apply for your licence.
Your organisation will pay you, but
there is no formal apprenticeship
scheme. You will have to negotiate,
for example, how much you will be

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paid and whether your organisation
will pay your exam fees.
Not all aircraft maintenance
organisations take on trainees. If you
choose this path you will need to
approach organisations and ask them
to take you on. You may have to
approach several before you are
successful. There are about 50 certified
maintenance organisations around the
country. A list is available free on the • The third path is for those who have
CAA web site www.caa.govt.nz under already done a traineeship in an
"Personnel Licensing / Engineer". aviation-related field, such as military
• The second path is for those who have aircraft engineering. They need a total
already done an apprenticeship in a of four years of aviation engineering
non-aviation field, such as car experience and passes in the LAME
maintenance. To become a LAME, exams. Because their experience is
these people need just three years of aviation related, they can credit it
direct aviation engineering experience towards their licence and may only
plus passes in all of the LAME exams. need the exam passes.

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• The fourth path is to train through
a certificated training organisation.
Air New Zealand’s Engineering
Training School in Christchurch is
currently the only organisation
approved to provide LAME training.
This path is open to anyone, whether
The compulsory exams are:
a new school-leaver or someone with
more engineering experience, but you • Aeronautical Science
must be at least 17. It takes four years, includes basic physics
and the total fees are more than • Aircraft Engineering
$60,000. You can apply for a Student includes workshop practice
Loan to cover up to $6500 a year.
• Aircraft Materials
You will need to allow for the cost of
includes testing of metals
textbooks and safety equipment.
• Human Factors and Supervision
includes the physical environment
Salary
• Aeroplanes 1 or Rotorcraft
A trainee LAME with no qualifications includes aircraft systems
can expect to start out earning about
• Avionics
$13,000 to $21,000 a year, but this varies
includes aircraft instruments
depending on the shifts you work (for
example, if you worked night shifts it • Air Law / Civil Aviation Legislation
would be higher) and is likely to increase includes rules engineers must follow
as you go. A trainee LAME with a previous
trade qualification (such as car Passes in all of these exams are valid for life
maintenance) will start on about $25,000 except the Air Law exam, which must be sat
within the five years preceding application
to $31,000 a year, but this also varies.
for licence.
Qualified LAMEs can expect to earn a
The aviation industry company, Aviation
starting rate of about $35,000 to $45,000, Services Ltd, holds regular exam sittings in
but again this depends on the maintenance main centres throughout New Zealand. You can
organisation and their shift allowance rate. sit your exams at any stage of your training,
but you would probably find them easier with
some practical experience behind you.
Exams The LAME licence is unique, and no other
courses or exams can be credited to your
Whichever path you choose, you will LAME exams. You must get at least 70 per
have to sit the same exams. Some of cent to pass.
these are compulsory and others are You can also study for some of your exams by
optional, depending on what sort of correspondence through the Air New Zealand
Engineering Training School.
LAME you want to be.

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Specialising LAMEs can choose to specialise in
aeroplanes, helicopters, electrical
Aircraft and their systems are highly
systems, engines, instruments, avionics,
varied, and LAMEs are not usually
or lighter-than-air aircraft, such as hot-
qualified to work on every kind of
air balloons. Specialising means more
aircraft. All LAMEs sit the compulsory
exams and practical experience. Once
exams, and they also specialise in one
qualified, LAMEs can opt to train in
area of aircraft engineering as part of
more of these areas.
their training.

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This Cessna 172 has relatively
simple systems.

As well as specialising in a particular area


of engineering, LAMEs qualify to work
on certain groups of aircraft. One of
these 17 groups includes all unpressurised
aeroplanes with metal stressed skin and
fixed landing gear, weighing up to 5700
kg, such as a Cessna 172.
Some aircraft, like the Boeing 747, are
so complex that they form a “group” on
their own.
Specialising requires both practical "The technology is always changing, so
experience and exam passes. Throughout there’s always so much to learn."
their careers, LAMEs may continually (LAME Trudi Pocock)
add more groups of aircraft and areas of
specialisation to their licence.
Becoming an unlicensed
aircraft engineer
You don’t have to be a LAME to become
involved in aircraft maintenance.
However, if you don’t have a licence
you will always be working under the
supervision of a LAME, and you must
have all your work approved by a LAME.
There are two paths to becoming an
unlicensed aircraft engineer.
Engineers must be specially trained • The first path is to learn aircraft
to work on complex aircraft like
engineering with on-the-job training
the Boeing 747.
at an aircraft maintenance

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Angelene McIvor was the first person
to be awarded the New Zealand
National Certificate in Aeronautical
Engineering, Level four. She is
pictured with Air New Zealand
organisation. This path is much like Quality Assurance Manager, Systems
Engineering, Mel Payne (left) and
the first path to becoming a LAME –
Air New Zealand General Manager
except that you don’t sit any exams. If
Engineering, Ian Diamond.
you later decide to become a LAME,
you can count your practical
experience towards your licence.
The course fees are around $13,000,
• The second path is to do a formal
and you should allow for additional
training course.
costs of textbooks and safety
The Air New Zealand Engineering equipment.
Training School runs a year-long
You must be at least 17, and you
course in aeronautical engineering.
should have Sixth Form passes in
The course will give you a Certificate
English, maths, and one science
in Aeronautical Engineering. The
(preferably physics).
course exams cannot be cross-credited
to the LAME exams, but the practical
experience can be counted toward
your LAME licence.

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Salary
An unlicensed engineer with a
Certificate in Aeronautical Engineering
can expect to start out earning about
$19,000 to $23,000 a year, but this can
vary depending on the maintenance
organisation and shift allowances. An
unlicensed engineer without any
qualification can expect to earn a
starting rate of about $13,000 to $21,000
a year, but again this varies.

To learn more
The requirements for becoming a LAME Rules have accompanying Advisory
are contained in the Civil Aviation Circulars that provide extra information.
Rules, Part 66 Aircraft Maintenance A list of exactly what you need to
Personnel Licensing. study to become a LAME is given in the
Advisory Circulars to Part 66. Reference
material to assist your study is also
provided.

All Civil Aviation Rules, Advisory


Circulars and other information
are available free on the CAA web
site www.caa.govt.nz

If you would like to learn more about


the training that Air New Zealand offers
in Christchurch, contact the Marketing
Representative.

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Copies of this and other ‘How to...’ booklets can be obtained from: Safety Education and Publishing Unit,
Civil Aviation Authority, P O Box 31 441, Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Tel: 0–4–560 9400, Fax: 0–4–569 2024.
This ‘How to...’ booklet was revised in 2000 and is available on the CAA web site: www.caa.govt.nz