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Aerospace technicians assist in the design, development, testing, and production of aircraft and spacecraft—rockets, missiles, helicopters, airplanes, and space vehicles. Because the field is so vast and the equipment so complex, aerospace technicians usually specialize in certain areas. They might spend several years working on one small part needed for a booster and become an expert in that branch of aerospace technology.

Avionics—aviation electronics—is a rapidly growing part of the aerospace industry. Avionics technicians repair and maintain the electronic controls used for aircraft navigation, radio communications, and weather radar systems. Other electronic equipment on board controls flight, engines, and other primary functions.

All aircraft are dependent on instrumentation. Instrument flight regulations (IFR) require airplanes to be equipped with position-finding instruments. For commercial airlines, the key system is the flight management computer, which can display altitude, speed, course, wind conditions, and route information. The instrument landing system (ILS) enables an airplane to navigate through clouds or darkness to an airport's runway. The microwave landing system (MLS) can land the plane automatically if the pilot is unable to, but the pilot always has the option of overriding it manually.

Pilots monitor their cockpit panels closely and immediately report even the smallest glitch. Avionics technicians take over from there. First, they try to recreate the conditions that were present when the malfunction occurred. Then, they must pinpoint the problem and find its source, using complex diagnostic equipment. Diagnostics is also used in preventive maintenance, which is routine today in most airlines.

Today, it is more likely that aviation electronics will be repaired, rather than replaced. Sometimes the equipment is removed from the plane and taken to a repair shop, but more often avionics technicians are required to work in cockpits in hangars or outdoors on the airport tarmac. They are under pressure to work fast in order to maintain flight schedules. At the same time, they must meet safety standards and not give a thumbs-up until they are absolutely certain the part is in perfect working order. The safety of passengers and crew is the number one priority. Usually technicians work in teams and share this responsibility. A stress-resistant team player who accepts overtime and weekend work makes a perfect employee.

About two-thirds of avionics technicians work for airlines or airports; the rest work for aircraft assembly plants, repair shops, private aircraft firms, or the federal government.


Avionics technicians make between $15 and $22 per hour. Those who work for major airlines generally earn the higher wages and are covered by union agreements, which offer additional benefits.

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