What is an aircraft inspector?
An aircraft inspector plays a crucial role in the aviation industry by ensuring that aircraft and related equipment meet established safety regulations and standards. Their expertise is instrumental in guaranteeing the safety of passengers, crew members, and cargo.
By meticulously examining and assessing different components of an aircraft, from the structural integrity of its frame to the functionality of its avionic systems, these professionals safeguard the reliability and safety of flight operations. Their sharp vision and technical knowledge enable airlines, maintenance facilities, and manufacturing plants to operate confidently, knowing that each flight is being carried out with an aircraft meeting stringent safety standards.
Duties and responsibilities
Aircraft inspectors conduct thorough aircraft examinations to ensure compliance with federal regulations and manufacturer’s specifications. They assess airplanes’ and helicopters’ structural and mechanical conditions, review maintenance and repair records, and check the installation of optional equipment.
Their duties extend to inspecting the work of aircraft mechanics, approving or disapproving of their maintenance and repair work, and confirming the accuracy of maintenance logs. They test aircraft systems and equipment for proper performance, using tools and testing devices specifically designed for the task. In cases of incidents or accidents, inspectors may also be involved in investigative processes to determine the root causes.
Aircraft inspectors primarily work in hangars, repair stations, or directly on airfields. The nature of their job requires them to be in close contact with aircraft, sometimes in noisy environments with exposure to various weather conditions. Since aircraft can be massive structures, inspectors might need to work at heights or in tight spaces.
Safety gear, such as ear protection, safety harnesses, or specialized tools, is often essential. They collaborate closely with aircraft mechanics, engineers, and sometimes regulatory officials, necessitating excellent communication and teamwork skills.
Typical work hours
The work hours for aircraft inspectors can vary significantly based on the specific role and the employer. Many inspectors work standard daytime hours, but given the 24/7 nature of the aviation industry, some might work in shifts to ensure continuous oversight, especially in large airports or major maintenance facilities.
During specific maintenance checks or urgent repairs, overtime or irregular hours might be needed. Those working for regulatory bodies or in investigative roles might also experience varied schedules, especially when responding to aviation incidents or accidents.
How to become an aircraft inspector
To become an aircraft inspector, you’ll need a combination of education, practical experience, and certification. In this career guide section, we cover the steps to achieve your goal:
Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or GED
A high school diploma or GED is typically the minimum educational requirement. While in high school, focus on courses that build a strong foundation in math, physics, and mechanics.
Step 2: Pursue postsecondary education
After completing high school, enroll in an accredited postsecondary program in aviation maintenance, aircraft mechanics, or a related field. These programs usually lead to a certificate or associate’s degree and provide training in aircraft systems, maintenance practices, and aviation regulations. Look for a program approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure it meets industry standards.
Step 3: Gain practical experience
Hands-on experience is essential for developing skills and knowledge. Obtain an aircraft mechanic or technician position with an airline, aircraft manufacturer, or maintenance facility. This practical experience will familiarize you with various aircraft systems, maintenance procedures, and regulatory requirements.
Step 4: Obtain FAA Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certification
In the United States, aircraft inspectors must be certified by the FAA. To become certified, you must pass the FAA’s Airframe and Powerplant certification exams covering general maintenance practices and systems. Upon passing the exams, an A&P certificate is awarded and qualifies you to work on aircraft systems.
Step 5: Gain experience in inspection and quality control
Seek opportunities to work on inspection teams or in quality control departments. Focus on tasks such as reviewing maintenance documentation, conducting inspections, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
Step 6: Obtain FAA Inspection Authorization (IA)
Aircraft inspectors must hold an IA certificate from the FAA that demonstrates expertise and the ability to perform comprehensive inspections. At least three years of experience as an A&P-certified mechanic are required to obtain an IA, including at least one year in a position responsible for maintaining aircraft. You must pass the written IA exam administered by the FAA to receive certification.
Step 7: Apply for aircraft inspector positions
After receiving IA certification, begin applying for jobs. These roles are available with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, maintenance and repair organizations (MROs), or government agencies, such as the FAA or the military. Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight experience, certifications, and quality control expertise.
Step 8: Engage in continuous professional development
Staying up-to-date with industry developments, regulatory changes, and technological advancements is essential. Participate in ongoing professional development through workshops, seminars, or online courses, and stay informed about updated regulations or best practices. This commitment to learning helps maintain professional standing and supports long-term career growth.
Here is a sample of some of the options available for continuing education which may include our sponsored partners. To learn more about our affiliate relationships, check out our affiliate disclosure.
- Learn about the physics of the atmosphere and its consequences on speed and altitude measurements with Coursera’s Flight Mechanics: Anemobarometry.
- Udemy’s course, Aircraft Maintenance: Understanding the FARs, covers Title 14 CFR parts 1, 3, 65, and 91. Learn the CFR privileges or limitations and how they affect various roles in aviation.
- Earn a certificate in the instrument landing system (ILS), the PAPI visual glide slope indicator system, and the microwave landing system (MLS) with Udemy’s Certificate Course: Aviation and the ILS, PAPI & MLS, which explores the operating principles of the most critical topics in aviation.
- Learn about aerospace engineering, aircraft masses, and balancing characteristics to build an airplane model with Masterclass’ Aerospace Masterclass: Aircraft Design.
How much do aircraft inspectors make?
Many factors can influence the salary of aircraft inspectors. Geographic location is an important consideration, as salaries tend to be higher in areas with a significant aviation industry presence or high cost of living. Education, certifications, and specialized aviation maintenance or inspection training can also impact earning potential.
Experience is another key factor; seasoned inspectors with extensive knowledge in the field usually command higher salaries. The size and type of the employer, whether it be commercial airlines, private aviation companies, or governmental agencies, can also impact compensation levels.
Highest paying industries
- Scheduled Air Transportation: $86,000
- Aerospace Manufacturing: $82,000
- Federal Government: $80,000
- Air Transportation: $76,000
- Local Government: $74,000
Highest paying states
- District of Columbia: $92,941
- Washington: $92,000
- Hawaii: $86,000
- Connecticut: $85,000
- Alaska: $84,000
Types of aircraft inspectors
In this career guide section, we will explore the different kinds of aircraft inspectors, shedding light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus.
Commercial aircraft inspector
Commercial inspectors work for airlines, maintenance facilities, and regulatory agencies to perform inspections, handle maintenance, and ensure aircraft and cargo carriers comply with safety and regulatory requirements.
Military aircraft inspector
Military aircraft such as fighter jets, transport planes, and helicopters must meet unique requirements and specifications for safe operation in military environments. These inspectors may be armed forces members or civilian contractors working for the Department of Defense or other military organizations.
General aviation aircraft inspector
General inspectors focus on smaller aircraft, such as private planes and business jets. They may work for maintenance facilities, regulatory agencies, or as independent contractors providing specialized services to aircraft owners and operators.
Helicopters have unique requirements and challenges compared to fixed-wing aircraft, so these inspectors require particular knowledge. Typical employers include helicopter manufacturers, maintenance facilities, or regulatory agencies.
Aircraft engine inspector
These inspectors may choose to specialize in engines and components where they perform maintenance, verify safety standards, and comply with regulations for employers in manufacturing, maintenance facilities, or regulatory agencies.
The avionics specialty focuses on navigation, communication, and flight control systems. This subset of inspectors works for manufacturers and maintenance facilities to ensure systems function correctly, meet safety standards, and comply with regulations.
Quality assurance inspector
Quality assurance inspectors work for aircraft manufacturers, maintenance facilities, or regulatory agencies to verify that aircraft production and maintenance processes meet established quality standards and regulatory requirements. Their duties include auditing, inspecting, and testing aircraft to identify areas for improvement.
Aircraft inspector instructor
Vocational schools, community colleges, and military and commercial aviation programs employ these skilled instructors who provide hands-on teaching and training to aspiring aircraft inspectors.
Top skills for aircraft inspectors
To excel in this position, aircraft inspectors must possess a thorough knowledge of aviation regulations, have excellent attention to detail, demonstrate proficient technical skills, and have the ability to interpret complex documents.
In-depth knowledge of aviation regulations
These professionals need an in-depth knowledge of aviation regulations to ensure that aircraft comply with the relevant safety standards. Familiarity with the rules and regulations set by aviation authorities, such as the FAA in the United States, is crucial for determining whether an aircraft meets the required safety criteria. This knowledge helps them rigorously evaluate the aircraft’s condition and enforce compliance with safety regulations.
Attention to detail
Attention to detail is paramount, as the safety of aircraft passengers and crew depends on the thoroughness of inspections. They must meticulously examine every component of an aircraft, from the structural integrity of the fuselage to the functionality of avionics systems. Missing even a small issue can have serious consequences, so inspectors must be vigilant and detail oriented.
They must possess strong technical skills, including an understanding of aircraft systems and components and the ability to use various inspection tools and diagnostic equipment. They must be knowledgeable about the mechanical and electrical aspects of different aircraft types and have the skills to identify issues that might compromise safety or performance.
Interpretation of complex documents
Interpreting complex documents, such as maintenance manuals, schematics, and regulatory documents, is vital. They must be able to read and understand these materials to evaluate an aircraft’s condition and maintenance history effectively. The ability to interpret these documents is necessary for identifying discrepancies, ensuring compliance with regulations, and making informed decisions regarding the airworthiness of an aircraft.
Effective communication is essential, as they need to convey their findings to maintenance personnel, pilots, and regulatory authorities. These inspectors must communicate technical information clearly and concisely, both in written reports and verbally. Good communication ensures that any issues identified during inspections are properly addressed and that all parties involved understand the steps needed to ensure the aircraft’s safety.
Inspectors must be adept at solving problems, as they often encounter unexpected issues during inspections and need to think critically to identify the root causes of these problems. This involves analyzing information, weighing the implications of different solutions, and determining the most effective course of action to ensure the safety and compliance of the aircraft.
Familiarity with inspection tools and equipment
Being familiar with various inspection tools and equipment is crucial for these professionals. They must be proficient in using devices such as ultrasonic testers, eddy current devices, and borescopes to assess the condition of various aircraft components. This equipment helps them detect issues that may not be visible to the naked eye and ensures a more thorough and accurate inspection.
Aircraft inspector career path
Aircraft inspectors often start with training and education in aircraft maintenance, aviation technology, or a related field, typically through a technical school, community college, or military training program. Once their education is complete, aspiring inspectors can obtain the necessary certifications, such as the FAA’s A&P certificate. They may work as an aircraft mechanic, avionics technician, or aircraft maintenance technician to gain hands-on experience in maintaining, repairing, and troubleshooting various aircraft systems.
As their skills and expertise develop, it is possible to advance to the role of aircraft inspector, specializing in conducting inspections and ensuring compliance with safety regulations and maintenance procedures. An inspector with solid performance and experience may progress into a leadership role, such as a lead inspector, quality assurance manager, or maintenance director. These roles oversee other inspectors and ensure aircraft maintenance quality and safety.
Further career advancement may lead to executive-level positions, such as chief inspector or vice president of quality assurance, with responsibility for overall maintenance strategy and compliance. Some may transition into related fields, such as aircraft maintenance training, aviation safety, or accident investigation.
Similar job titles
Aircraft inspector position trends and outlook
Ongoing advancements in aircraft technology, such as electric and hybrid aircraft development and the introduction of cutting-edge materials and components, significantly impact the industry. Staying informed about the latest aircraft design, manufacturing, and maintenance trends is critical. In addition, inspectors must remain knowledgeable about regulations and industry standards changes.
Employment projections for aircraft inspectors
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for transportation inspectors, including aircraft inspectors, is projected to grow by 6% through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by the ongoing need to ensure safety and compliance and develop new aircraft models with increasingly complex systems and components.
The career outlook remains stable, with growth and development opportunities. To stay competitive, inspectors should focus on enhancing technical skills, staying informed about advancements in aircraft design and manufacturing, and obtaining relevant certifications to demonstrate expertise.
Aircraft inspector career tips
Acquire relevant education and training
You’ll need specialized education and training in aircraft maintenance, aviation technology, or a related field. Pursue a degree, diploma, or certificate program from a reputable institution or technical school. Additionally, gain hands-on experience by working in the industry or completing an apprenticeship in aircraft maintenance.
Obtain necessary certifications
Earning professional certifications demonstrates expertise and commitment to the profession. The FAA issues certifications such as the A&P certificate in the US. To further establish expertise, consider pursuing additional certifications such as the IA certificate.
Develop strong attention to detail
Accuracy and thoroughness are critical, as any oversight can seriously affect an aircraft’s safety and performance. Cultivate exceptional attention to detail to identify potential issues and non-compliance with regulations. Implement checks and balances in your work routine to minimize errors and maintain high-quality output.
Master relevant tools and equipment
The industry utilizes tools and equipment specific to aircraft inspection and maintenance. Familiarize yourself with specialized tools like borescopes, eddy current testers, and ultrasonic inspection equipment. Developing expertise will help you work more efficiently and safely.
Prioritize safety and compliance
Inspectors must adhere to strict safety guidelines and regulatory requirements to ensure aircraft safety. Learn about relevant procedures, industry regulations, and best practices to maintain a safe work environment and ensure compliance with all applicable standards.
Enhance your analytical and problem-solving skills
Develop strong analytical and problem-solving skills to evaluate aircraft components and systems effectively and make informed decisions regarding their maintenance and repair.
Develop effective communication skills
Aircraft inspectors must communicate findings and recommendations to colleagues, supervisors, and other aviation professionals. Cultivate strong verbal and written communication skills to convey information clearly, concisely, and professionally. Effective communication can prevent misunderstandings and facilitate collaboration.
Be a team player
Inspectors often work in a team, collaborating with other maintenance professionals and aviation personnel. Develop a collaborative mindset and be willing to assist colleagues when needed. Being a team player will help build solid relationships and contribute positively to the organization’s success.
Stay current with industry developments and technology
The aviation industry constantly evolves, with new technologies and advancements regularly introduced. Stay informed about industry developments, emerging technologies, and best practices by reading publications, attending workshops, and participating in professional associations. Keeping knowledge and skills up to date will help to stay competitive and adapt to new challenges.
Build a professional network
Networking is essential for career growth and staying informed about job opportunities and industry trends. Connect with other aircraft inspectors, maintenance professionals, and aviation industry experts by attending conferences, seminars, and local meetups. Join professional associations, such as:
- Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA)
- Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC)
- National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
Where the aircraft inspector jobs are
- The Boeing Company
- Lockheed Martin
- General Dynamics
- Northrop Grumman
Top job sites
What qualifications are needed to become an aircraft inspector?
You typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and specialized training in aircraft maintenance or a related field from a vocational school, community college, or the military. Many have prior experience as aircraft mechanics or technicians. Obtaining certification from the FAA as an aviation maintenance technician is often required, and additional certifications, such as the IA certificate, can be beneficial.
What skills are important for an aircraft inspector?
Essential skills include strong technical and mechanical capabilities, attention to detail, problem-solving abilities, and interpreting technical manuals, schematics, and regulatory documents. Excellent communication skills and the ability to work independently or as part of a team are also necessary.
What industries employ aircraft inspectors?
Inspectors can find employment in commercial aviation, military aviation, aerospace manufacturing, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities, and private aviation companies. They may also work for regulatory agencies, such as the FAA.
What is the career growth potential for an aircraft inspector?
With experience, training, and certifications, they can advance to lead inspector, supervisor, or quality control manager. They may also transition to other roles within the aviation industry, such as safety management, regulatory compliance, or training and development.
What are the typical job duties of an aircraft inspector?
Inspectors ensure that aircraft and their components meet the safety and performance standards of regulatory agencies, manufacturers, and operators. They perform inspections, tests, and evaluations of aircraft systems, structures, and components to identify potential issues, ensure compliance with maintenance procedures, and verify repair quality.
Do aircraft inspectors need certification?
They must often be certified by the FAA as aviation maintenance technicians. This certification demonstrates maintenance proficiency, including inspection procedures and regulatory requirements. Some may hold additional certifications like an IA certificate, which allows them to perform more specialized inspections and approve significant repairs or alterations.
What is the work environment like for aircraft inspectors?
Inspectors typically work in hangars, repair stations, or manufacturing facilities. They may be exposed to weather conditions, loud noise, and potentially hazardous materials. Adherence to safety protocols is crucial in this role. Some may also be required to travel to perform on-site inspections at different locations.
What is the work-life balance like for aircraft inspectors?
The work-life balance can vary depending on the employer and specific role. Some positions may require working evening, weekend, or holiday shifts. Others may require being on-call for emergency inspections. However, many inspectors work standard 40-hour workweeks.
What is the job outlook for aircraft inspectors?
The job outlook depends on factors such as the overall demand for air travel, growth in the aviation industry, and the need for ongoing maintenance of existing aircraft. While there may be continued demand for skilled inspectors, competition for positions is strong. Obtaining specialized training and certifications, and staying up-to-date with industry trends, can improve job prospects.
How can I gain experience as an aspiring aircraft inspector?
To gain experience, consider pursuing internships, apprenticeships, or entry-level aviation maintenance or inspection positions. Participating in vocational or technical training programs in aircraft maintenance or a related field can also help develop the necessary skills and knowledge for this career. Additionally, networking with industry professionals provides valuable connections and insights.