Evolution of Aircraft Maintenance Training


The aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) profession is as old as aviation itself. The training of AME traditionally would lie in the hands of the aircraft owner. However as the industry grew and aircraft technology advanced, aircraft maintenance engineering became more intricate, and the training of the engineer fell on the engineer himself or the airline he works for. The aviation industry has seen a number of revolutions mainly driven by technology which brought rise to the aspect of safety in the industry. Safety in this regards does not only mean the safety of the crew and passengers onboard the aircraft, but also safety of those on the ground as well. Due to this necessity of ensuring safety in this industry, government regulations became necessary and therefore play a major role in the maintenance of aviation safety. The training today of aircraft maintenance personnel does ensure that safe practices are incorporated as well as Human factors so as to ensure that this safety culture is maintained.

Historical Perspective of Aircraft Maintenance.

Traditionally the training of aircraft engineers was through an apprenticeship scheme1, as this is a field that largely relies on skill base. On the early days aircraft maintenance focused on mechanical systems and the engine, as the aircraft was made up of a structure, control mechanism and the engine. As the aircrafts became more complex so did the training, due to more equipment being installed into aircrafts for example; autopilot, navigational systems and lately in-flight entertainment and so forth.

Licensing Aircraft Maintenance Personnel

The licensing began in 1909 and by the year 1919 the first international licensing standard were established as Annex E of the Paris Convention. The early standards of licensing were mainly for air crew and this licensing was based on medical fitness as well as experience. The first personnel licensing standards were implemented by ICAO in 19481. This licensing was structured to ensure control through a metrics comprising ; categories, groups and ratings. Each maintenance engineering license is different as a rating is applied on a license depending on the training the engineer has received on a specific aircraft and part. ICAO is responsible for establishing the licensing standards and guidelines for contracting states1, however ICAO is not responsible for enforcing these standards, enforcement of standards is the responsibility of the government of the state of any given country. Obtaining an aircraft engineering license does require comprehensive study that this article will address using New Zealand as an example of the various options in which the license can be obtained.

Aircraft Maintenance

This is a specialised field due to its odd nature as unlike many fields it requires a hands-on skill application as well as knowledge of complex systems. Due to the hands on approach an apprenticeship system is used as well as the teaching of the required knowledge in vocational institutions and polytechnics, as a strong theoretic foundation is also paramount1. To become an engineer one will attend a certified school that’s registered under the,’ National Airworthiness Authority’ of the country they are seeking to work for. Under the course they will basically learn all that’s required for maintaining a typical aircraft. Once the theoretical work is complete the student will then go through an apprenticeship which could be as long as four years, depending on the institution requirements. Once the theory and practical part of the course is complete the student will receive a LWTR (License Without Type Rating)2. An engineer can now decide whether to gain further certification or seek employment just as a general maintenance engineer who is not certified in a specific maintenance Type.

In general they are two types on engineers; Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (LAMEs) and those who do not hold a license. Both types of engineers can maintain a broken or faulty aircraft, but it’s only a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME) who can certify that the aircraft is, ‘safe to fly’. An uncertified engineer however has to have all of his/her work supervised and authorized by a LAME2. The requirements for becoming a LAME are contained in the Civil Aviation Rules, Part 66 Aircraft Maintenance Personnel Licensing. In order to gain a type certified/type rating the aircraft maintenance engineer has to undergo exams with the local Aviation Authority for the specific aircraft (normally a small aircraft, based on aircraft weight) or alternatively do a course and sit an exam with a Quality Assurance Department of an Approved Organization/Airlines, normally for larger aircraft.

Becoming A Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer In New Zealand.

Becoming a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer usually takes between 4-5 years. To gain the license you have to be 21 years of age or older2. There are four options of study you can undertake or four paths in order to become a LAME in New Zealand.

Option one

Work with a specific aircraft maintenance company and learn on the job under the guidance of an already licensed engineer. This kind of training will require five years, on which you will also undergo exams. Once the five years are up you can apply for a license2. Not every aircraft maintenance company will take a trainee so the trainee has to find a company and approach them. In New Zealand they are about fifty certified maintenance organisations. A list of these organisations can be sort at [http://www.caa.govt.nz] under ‘personnel Licensing/Engineer’.

Option Two

This options is for individuals who have worked in an apprentice engineering field that is not aviation related such as an automotive mechanic . To become a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer, they have to undergo three years of aviation engineering experience and sit the required exams2.

Option Three

This option is for those who have already gone through a traineeship in an aviation related field such as; military aircraft engineering2. As long as they have four years experience as an aircraft engineer they only have to sit the LAME exams and pass in order to receive their certificate.

Option Four
Train through a certified training organisation. In New Zealand, ‘Air New Zealand’s Training School’ is the only organisation approved to provide LAME training. The course is offered to anyone even a school leaver as long as you are over 17 years of age2. With Air New Zealand it takes 4 years and the total fees for the period is more than 60,000. Study link can cover up to 6,500 a year but you have to cover the difference which also includes Safety Equipment and text books.

Whichever of the four options you choose the exams you sit for your LAME license are the same. The exams comprise of2;

• Aircraft Engineering.

• Aeronautical Science.

• Avionics.

• Air Law/ Civil Aviation Legislation.

• Aeroplanes 1 or Rotorcraft.

• Human Factors and Supervision.

• Aircraft Materials.

At the end of training the maintenance engineer will have attained;

• Tertiary Education.

• Competence in IT.

• Technical knowledge & skills.

• English Communication- Oral and written.

• Conversant with Aviation Laws.

• Human Factors.

Today added to the training is1;

• Simulators.

• Less trade demarcation.

• Technology- based learning methods.

• Recurrent training.

Challenges Faced in Training Maintenance Personnel

The biggest challenge in aircraft maintenance training is attaining the correct mix of skills, technical knowledge and system knowledge. These skills are so closely intertwined in every maintenance task that often it is impossible to break them up for several people to perform the task1.

Human Factors Errors In Aircraft Maintenance

Error in aircraft maintenance has been a casual factor in aircraft accident. In regards to aircraft maintenance, ‘human error’, manifests as an unintended aircraft discrepancy , attributed to actions or non-actions of the aircraft maintenance engineer. Examples of human error in aircraft maintenance includes but is not limited to; failure to remove a protective cap from a hydraulic line before reassembly, incorrect instalment of line-replaceable units e.t.c. These failures represent or illustrate the mismatch of L-H in the SHEL Model3.

Other errors that occur are those that become unnoticed during scheduled or unscheduled maintenance. These failures include but are not limited to; faulty avionics boxes being left on the aircraft due to wrong diagnosis of the problem, structural cracks on the airframe of the aircraft that are missed during visual inspection and so forth. These errors can arise due to lack of proper training, poor allocation of resources; such as on maintenance tools, time constraints. They could also arise due to poor ergonomic design of tools (L-H flawed interface), or also due to incomplete documentation or manuals ( L-S flawed Interface) 3.

Maintenance Errors In Sequence Of Occurance4;

• Incorrect installation of components.

• Fitting of wrong parts.

• Electrical wiring discrepancies (including cross-connections).

• Loose objects (tools, etc.) left in aircraft.

• Inadequate lubrication.

• Cowlings, access panels and fairings not secured.

• Landing gear ground lock pins not removed before departure.

Human Factors In Aircraft Maintenance Training

Due to the error that occurs during the interaction of man-machine, Human Factors is incorporated in the training of the aircraft maintenance engineer to reduce error as well as educate them on how to minimize these errors. Human Factors training in Aviation Maintenance (HFAM), is thus given where the core topics addressed are5;

• HFAM History & FAA Regulations/guidance.

• Human Factors in the Workplace.

• Human Error Principles & Just Culture.

• Supervisory & Organizational Error and Norms.

• Diminished Human Performance.

• Stress and Fatigue.

• Effective Communications.

• Individual and Organizational Situation Awareness.

• Human Factors Process Application.

• Conflict Management.

• Accident Causation/Event Investigation.

• Human Factors Training Program Development & Evaluation.

Through proper training and application of safe Human Factor practices errors can be prevented and reduced in this sector, so as to ensure the continuous growth of the safety culture in the industry.


1. Khee, L.Y (2009). Evolution of Aircraft Maintenance Training. Journal of Aviation Management. LYK Aerospace Pte Ltd: Singapore.

2. CAA NZ(2010).How to be an aircraft maintenance engineer. Retrieved 05 October, 2010, from www.caa.govt.nz/safety_info/How_tos/LAMEhow_to.pdf

3. Marx, D.A. and R.C. Graeber. (1993) Human Error in Aircraft Maintenance. Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, Seattle, Washington.

4. United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) (September 1992) “Maintenance Error”. Asia Pacific Air Safety.

5. SCSI.(2010).Excellence in Aviation Safety Training: Human Factors in Aviation Maintenance. Retrieved 05 October, 2010, from http://www.scsi-inc.com/HFAM.php

Want to know more?

Human Factors in Aircraft Maintenance: http://aviationknowledge.wikidot.com/aviation:test-1

Aircraft maintenance engineer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_maintenance_engineer

Maintenance Human Factors Training: http://www.globalairtraining.com/maintenance-human-factors.htm

Contributors to this page

Melanie AttanMelanie Attan

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