Now that you’re comfortable with wrenching the easy stuff on your engine and airframe, thoughts may turn to earning an A&P (airframe and powerplant rating). Unlike the process of earning a new pilot rating, it’s not quite as easy as taking a course, an exam and going home with ticket in hand ready to rebuild your own aircraft.
The FAA requires a minimum of 18 months of practical experience working with either powerplants or airframes, or 30 months of practical experience working on both at the same time. As an alternative, you must successfully graduate from an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician school. The curriculum offered by most schools is 12 to 24 months in length.
As for on-the-job practical training, you would have to be employed by an FAA repair station or an FBO and work under the supervision of a certified mechanic. You’ll have to provide the FAA pay receipts, a logbook entry endorsed by a supervisor mechanic and other proof you worked at the facility for the required time. The FAA also recognizes some prior military occupational specialties for work credit.
With proof of training presented to a FSDO (flight standards district office), the next step is to pass a written exam, an oral test and a practical test, which is issued by an FAA-designated mechanical examiner. The testing covers 43 technical subjects and you must pass all the tests within a 24-month period.
Now with a fresh A&P rating in your wallet, you can legally perform annual maintenance items, but the inspection and sign-off has to be done by an IA (inspection authorization) rating holder. To be eligible for the IA rating, you must hold an A&P rating for a three-year period before applying to take additional knowledge testing and have been actively engaged in aircraft maintenance for the two-year period prior to applying for testing. If that sounds time-consuming, it is and it doesn’t always work for the working aircraft owner.
It did work for Mooney owner Robert McGuire, who earned an A&P and an IA rating to care for his aircraft, logging experience working part-time at a shop. But even after proving his qualifications and keeping his IA current—with the authority to accomplish and sign off on his own maintenance and mods—McGuire recognizes the need to partner with qualified technicians.
“It’s always a good idea to have another set of qualified eyes when inspecting your own aircraft,” he said. He also realizes that his area of expertise is limited to the Mooney models he’s owned and worked on over the years, and defers engine rebuilding and other specialized tasks to expert shops.
“If my engine needs to be rebuilt, I’m going to pull it off the aircraft and send it out. I don’t have the specialized tools to do it myself,” McGuire said.
And that’s the takeaway for earning your own repair certificates. Like exercising the rights of any other rating, you’ll need to be realistic and set your own personal minimums.