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Why do mechanics make less than pilots?

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Why do mechanics make less than pilots?

Old 04-12-2019, 08:16 AM
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Default Why do mechanics make less than pilots?

This question has been rolling around in my head for quite some time.

First I'm an A&P, IA, pilot, and have worked as a mechanic for 13 yeas and a commercial pilot for about 6 years. I currently work both positions for a small defense contractor. So I have worked both sides of the fence in GA, defense, and the airlines (haven't flown for an airline yet) for over a decade. I just cant figure out why pilots have so much up potential in there carrier while mechanics typically stall out in the low 6 figures. At the core of the question I have two perplexing thoughts.

Supply and demand,

I understand there is a Pilot shortage, but from what I have seen there is at least an equal (probably greater) shortage of A&P's in the market. I am 33 and am still the youngest A&P I know, and can't throw a rock without hitting a job offer right now. I love the free markets and supply and demand. I would think that A&P pay would be going up up and away, but it doesn't seam to rely change that much. I see more and more job postings for A&P positions but a relatively stagnant income growth.

Cause and effect of a average employee,

I'm probably going to step in it on this one but am going to say it anyway. The cause and effect of being an average pilot or mechanic greatly favors the mechanic. When an aircraft takes off it leaves airport A and arrives at airport B. The airplane and time don't care if it is piloted by Bob Hoover or if it is flown by me. The plane still gets there in the same amount of time, burns the same amount of fuel, so basically the outcome is the same regardless. However an AOG aircraft stuck on the ground and the difference between an average mechanic and an exceptional mechanic is frequently drastically different. I have seen aircraft sit downed for extended periods of time not because the mechanic was a bad mechanic, but because he was an average mechanic. The exceptional mechanic comes in and has a better fundamental understanding of troubleshooting and mechanics in general, finds the problem in no time and the plane is back out making money. The hit to a companies bottom line is drastically felt when MX takes longer than it could be accomplished. For this reason I would think there would be more up potential for rely good mechanics to get into that 200K-300K rarefied air that pilots enjoy.

In closing I love being an A&P and I love to fly. But I'm considering hanging up my A&P and moving into strictly flying because the pay is so much better. But the question of why still bothers me.
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Old 04-12-2019, 09:40 AM
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Kevbo will be along momentarily to spread his vitriol and hatred of the aviation maintenance profession (as he cannot resist). Yours is a view of someone who has thus far a successful maintenance background. His, not so much, so when it arrives, take it with more than a grain of salt.

I also work as an aircraft mechanic and as a pilot and have for many years (closer to 40 now, than 30).

The earning potential for a pilot is certainly greater than for a mechanic. This isn't in dispute, and even management positions through Director of Maintenance will not reach pilot earning potential (I've held that position twice).

In the cockpit, I wear a white collar (some of the time, depending on the job), while in the hangar I certainly do not. The two jobs are interrelated, but never the less separate descriptions and separate titles. One might ask why the attorney makes more than the legal assistant, though the legal assistant may do considerably more work. Physically the aircraft mechanic does more work, and may work longer hours, but the mechanic doesn't have the same job as the pilot and won't get the same wage.

When the flight departs, the pilot has the full responsibility, and the ultimate responsibility for the safe outcome of the flight. It may come down to this: no matter how well the mechanic does his job, or how badly he bungles it, he will go home to sleep in his own bed at the end of the shift, and even the most egregious error on the part of the mechanic will not place him at the scene of the crash.

The pilot, however, is the first one to the scene of the crash. An air traffic controller can err, and the mechanic can err, and neither will pay an ultimate price or ever hold ultimate responsibility for the outcome of the flight, but the pilot will. He's not paid for sitting in the airplane while it moves from A to B, but for his judgement in conducting the flight to get it there safely, or return it to the point of origin, or divert it somewhere else.

Mechanical objects may fail. We're having copious discussion about this regarding Lionair and Ethiopian right now, as you're aware. It may be a system design, may be improper maintenance, or may simply be a physical failure, short, etc. In the quiet of the hangar, the mechanic or a team of mechanics, may trouble shoot and repair a part, but in the noise and violence of the flight, the pilot will handle it in real time and will either land safely or condemn the crew and passengers, as happened with the Ethiopian 737 Max. In such a case, no matter how great the salary, the pilot will never collect, and that is a very big difference between the pilot and the mechanic.

Mechanics disparage pilots, and pilots disparage mechanics; my own assessment is that about 90% of each aren't worth their weight in wet salt. Mechanics don't need pilots; pilots, however, very much do need mechanics and trust their lives to proper maintenance. The reciprocal isn't true, though without the aircraft put in service and flown, the mechanic won't have a job.

Efforts have been made to elevate the standing of the profession of mechanic, from uniforms to name changes (eg, Aviation Maintenance Technician, and in some places, Engineer). The perception and the status will remain tied to the level of education and training and certification requirements, as well as the general stereotype.

I've worked alongside mechanics fresh from a community college A&P school who quite literally could not remove a 10-32 screw, and I kid not. I once was asked by a young man if he might borrow my die grinder. I offered it, then thought to ask why. He wanted to remove a screw. When I asked how, he said he wanted to cut the panel away (a cargo floor panel in a C-130), so he could get behind the screw and remove it with pliers. Again, I kid not. If that were isolated, I'd be thrilled, but it's not, and it's not relegated to entry level mechanics, either.

Not so long ago I was at a foreign location and had a maintenance discrepancy. A contract mechanic was available, who came to the flight deck and said he'd never seen or worked on this type aircraft before. He was not young, not inexperienced, but had zero experience on type. By comparison, I'd spent two months full time training on type, plus line training, just to operate as a pilot. Maintenance doesn't require a type rating (in most places, though it soon may); the A&P graduate is free to work on balloons, helicopters, airplanes, do fabric and wood work, or composites...yet may be quite unqualified to do so. No accounting of currency is made for the mechanic, though minimal legal requirements do exist. Not even a personal logbook is kept in most cases. Further, in a repair station, and even outside, non-certificated mechanics can work alongside certificated mechanics: the non-certificated mechanics may have zero training or experience and work under the supervision of a certificated mechanic or repair station.

Imagine if that existed in the world of pilots? "Folks, this is your captain speaking. Today your flight will be conducted by Joe, who is sitting next to me and who I'll be keeping a close eye on. Joe is a great guy who doesn't drink too much and who was kind enough to share a bag of salted peanuts with me at the Diamondback's game last night. Today we'll be cruising at 34,000' more or less, and hope to get to Cincinnatti some time tonight. Please hang on,and have a good flight." Doesn't really inspire confidence.

I've been turning wrenches longer than I've been flying, and started in my early teens. I have six rollaways full of tools, and have been a director of maintenance twice, as well as inspector, and have worked in repair stations, line maintenance, heavy maintenance, and all kinds of other capacities doing pneumatic, hydraulic, structural, sheet metal, composite, fabric, wood, electrical, paint, etc, and have worked on radial, light piston, turboprop, and turbojet equipment, for a lot of years. I take maintenance very seriously, and take the mechanics I work with very seriously, as I do the pilots. I say this to emphasize that I don't take them for granted, and I do understand the gravity of the position of a mechanic, which fields a lot of responsibility for a wage that should be considerably higher.

I've been stabbed, run over, burned, poisoned, shocked, painted, blinded, lacerated, abraded, beat up, bloody-knuckled and bruised on the job, and I went for years without ever being free of safety-wire cuts and tears, and didn't own a stitch of clothing that wasn't soiled by 120 weight oil and H5606. There have been times my wife wouldn't let me in the house because I smelled of jet fuel too much or was too dirty. I get it.

Aviation maintenance is a worthy profession, and I find a very gratifying, and professionally absorbing one. A good sheet metal repair, for example, can be quite complex and time consuming if done properly, and I find very rewarding, too. Just as I find breaking out of a low overcast to find a runway illuminated in front of me to be rewarding, likewise I find troubleshooting a problem, adjusting or repairing a problem, or accomplishing a maintenance task to be quite satisfying. I take a lot of pride and enjoyment from working as an aircraft mechanic, and frankly I'm proud to wear the title.

That said, I'm also very well aware that it won't pay as well. A regional pilot won't make what a major airline pilot will make. A mechanic often won't make what a pilot is making in any operation (though I have worked places where I made more in the shop than on the line). There are many jobs in aviation which have similar functions, but have large pay disparities. I've made six figures flying single engine airplanes, that I wouldn't have made doing other kinds of flying in a single engine airplane...but that's the job, that's the pay, and that's the way it is. Typically I'm paid more when the stakes are higher; whether it's a wealthy corporate client, an airplane with a lot of expensive cargo or paying passengers, or a high-stakes mission with considerable penalty for failure. These pay more. Likewise, with more experience come better jobs and better pay, though not in all cases.

The wages in aviation maintenance certainly should go up, though I think it will be a very long time before we ever see them where they should be.
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Old 04-13-2019, 04:22 AM
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I'm Once again, thanks for the introduction John. Its the low standards and effectively no barrier to entry causing low pay for mechanics. There is zero educational requirements and the system is designed around the absolute lowest form of human labor. My proof lies in the fact that most airline maintenance went to hastily built thirld world facilities and no one noticed. Countries with average IQs of 85 and too poor to produce textiles are able to perform aircraft maintenance. Americans too dumb to finish highschool become A&Ps. There's your level of skill. If you are truly outstanding, what premium is your boss willing to pay. In the case of maintenance workers, not very much! It's much easier for smart guys to either go to school or start a business and move up to a higher socioeconomic class. The last hangar I visited had one older mechanic supervising a bunch of kids and day laborers. They charged $85hr and customers seemed to be okay with what they saw. Most halfway intelligent A&Ps never work in aviation, if they do its not for long.

Last edited by kevbo; 04-13-2019 at 04:54 AM.
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Old 04-13-2019, 10:02 AM
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Part of it is that our aviation system, through accidents of history, evolved around pilots who were pretty smart and capable. The system now depends on that, although technology and automation has taken the edge off of that just a tiny bit. But airlines still absolutely rely on the pilots to be the Captain of the Ship when it comes to flight ops safety, even if they don't like to admit it.

So people who met the standards to be pilots for the better employers (who also want some people skills, whether airline or corporate) have other options in life. Since you need them to spend a lot of time away from home, you have to pay them to incentivize that. If I could make a lot more in other fields AND be home every night, I'd have trouble justifying aviation to the family.

Also pilot unions help increase and stabilize wages. Airline pilots are not as replaceable as mechanics, and pilot unions allow limited or zero outsourcing. During a strike, an airline can't hire and train thousands of airline pilots over night... takes too long, there's not enough pilots out there, and the sim capacity simply doesn't exist. Mx can be outsourced more readily and quickly.
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Old 04-13-2019, 10:08 AM
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Mechanics are willing to send pilots, crew and pax off with known anomalies; can't duplicate return to service. Once the mechanic is on the plane his 'disposition' changes. Read Fate is the Hunter.

Mechanics sleep in their bed every night.

Pilot is ultimately responsible. The reason why Capt makes the big bucks is so someone can be made liable.
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Old 04-13-2019, 10:57 AM
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Pilots and mechanics both make what they can negotiate, especially if they are unionized. Much of the leverage for these negotiations is the principle of supply and demand as you noted. As you may have noticed, the system is set against both pilots and mechanics for getting paid well, and most pilots at major airlines still aren't making the wages (corrected for inflation) that they were making before 9/11. This principle is not isolated to the aviation field. You may have read news articles showing how CEO/executive pay has increased exponentially compared to the average Joe. The CEOs get this money in part because they have become geniuses at figuring out how to make labor work more hours for less money and benefits. Pensions have mostly gone away, employees are paying more of their health care costs, companies restructure under bankruptcy laws and convince workers to take less salary, scope is picked away at during every contract negotiation, etc.

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Old 04-13-2019, 12:56 PM
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a mechanic is paid in the same way a pilot is paid. What the union negotiates. This will be between the lowest income someone is willing to do the job for and the upper end is the cost of replacing you. A union drives up the replacement cost but does little for the low cost of entry. So far the entry cost to become a A&P is less then the cost of becoming a pilot.

Its a great field and hopefully the pay will be able to be driven upwards.
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Old 04-13-2019, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Airbum View Post
a mechanic is paid in the same way a pilot is paid. What the union negotiates.
For those limited few who work under a union, perhaps.
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Old 04-14-2019, 12:05 AM
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Lots of good observations here.

Cfimechanic- I get where youíre coming from, I also am an a&p ia and a pilot/cfi. I like to do mx and I also like to fly, but itís been pretty eye opening to realize that the pay in the mx world is going nowhere. I was a mechanic for longer than I was a pilot, but when I switched to full time flying I more than doubled my mx pay in just a couple of years and work nowhere nearly as hard as I was when I was turning wrenches.

John said it right- A&P is a blue collar profession, and piloting is a white collar profession (although in some instances a case can be made to the contrary).

Also, one colleague of mine who is a&p/pilot once said that mechanics have a pay glass ceiling and I agree with him. In our area, an a&p rated tech can pretty easily start in the $20s (hourly), but you have to be very good to get into the $30s and thatís pretty much where it tops out, unless youíre willing to get into managerial functions or happen to work in a unionized shop.
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Old 04-14-2019, 04:37 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnBurke View Post
For those limited few who work under a union, perhaps.
true, I only referenced my opinion on union A&P's.
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