An aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) is a person licenced to ensure the airworthiness of an aircraft in accordance with local and international aviation standards. All aircraft must carry a valid certificate of airworthiness to be legally allowed to fly.
What do they do?
Before an aircraft takes off, it requires certification from licenced maintenance engineers vouching for its technical and physical perfection, ensuring that the machine is fit to fly safely to its destination.
Such certification engineers are known as aircraft maintenance engineers or AMEs. They are different from other engineers in two primary aspects. First, even if they are certified engineers (i.e. AMEs), they are not considered graduates.
They have to clear a set of exams (see box ‘how to get there’) conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and a DGCA-approved institute. Secondly, unlike a four-year BE/BTech, it normally takes about three years to become an AME. During this period, one is trained in general engineering and familiarised with various functions/ systems of an aircraft. This qualifies you as a licensed engineer for a particular function – such as electrical system or instrumentation, among others.
You can alternatively earn a licence to work on a particular type of aircraft – light, heavy, piston engine etc. Placements can be found in airlines, which then train you further in handling particular types of aircraft. After that training, you are meant to clear another DGCA exam (known as Exam Four) to earn a licence for that particular aircraft. Only then can your career as an AME take off.
One important aspect of this job is that you mostly can’t switch industries. “Apart from working in any airline, they can also be recruited by the DGCA, HAL or as technical manual writers in organisations like QUEST Global Engineering – Bangalore, Interglobe General Aviation, Delhi,” says Soumen Mukhopadhyay , chief instructor, JRN Institute of Aviation Technology.
Krishna Kant Sujeet, an AME with Alliance Airways, says this profession is well paying. “You are meant to do quite a responsible job. A small goof-up can put several lives in danger. And that can cost you your job as well as the licence,” says Sujeet.
Normally, there are two AMEs who sign the log book of an aircraft before it’s allowed to fly: one who ensures quality of the avionics aspects and the other who does clears the craft for mechanical fitness. Avionics include electrical, instrumentation and radio navigation. An AME specialised in avionics must have all three licences to do these jobs.
Sujeet does the quality control of Pratt & Whitney JT8D engine, and does a barrage of checks and maintenance operations such as engine mileage, control wheel brakes, fuel sufficiency and the right order of airframe including wings, elevator and radar. “Both AMEs have insulated jobs and don’t need to depend on the other. But at times, they work in synchronisation if the work demands it,” he adds.
Mathur (who doesn’t want to reveal his first name), another AME with a famous carrier, finds maintenance work easy. “All the procedures, checks are done according to a pre-decided set of norms that are listed clearly in the manuals. You can’t afford to stray from the set rules,” he says. “It also involves a lot of documentation which is taught in the first year of AME training. You don’t realise its importance until you become an engineer.”
Security checks are vital, says Mathur. “If it is taking too much time to fix the glitch, then the flight has to be cancelled – as the lives of the passengers cannot be compromised at any cost.”
To do well, one must work very hard and continue upgrading one’s skills. “There is a lot of travel and long working hours (though not everyday). One has a lot of responsibilities on one’s shoulders,” says Sunil Kumar, senior manager, Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited, Delhi.
. You must be hard working
. Must be aware of your responsibilities as a small mistake can lead to a disaster
. Willing to travel as one might have to shift stations often
. Must be technically inclined
. Lots of patience because you might struggle to find job in the beginning
How do I get there?
A student with 50 per cent marks in physics and maths in Class XII can get into an AME course in a DGCA-approved institute. You must clear the DGCA and college exams to obtain the licence. The DGCA gives four papers. The first exam conducted after one year of training in college tests your knowledge of general aviation rules and regulations. The second exam, conducted after two years of training, is about general engineering and maintenance practices. The third is held after two and a half years and you must choose your specialisation. After qualifying, join an airline or maintenance organisation and get trained for “type endorsement” of a particular aircraft. Then, sit for the fourth exam and a viva. Finally, you will get your AME licence from the DGCA.