Lorenzo Carlos Perez has a secret to share: Being an aircraft mechanic isn't that different from working on cars.
But he admits that the first time he took a tour of the inside of an airport, he was "blown away" by all the planes, big and small. It's that "wow" factor and his enjoyment of his day-to-day role that keeps him interested.
For the last decade, the 34-year-old has worked at Allegiant Airlines at McCarron International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. He started as a mechanic and now he's a lead mechanic.
Why did you get into aircraft mechanics?
As a kid in New Jersey I loved taking things apart — bikes, VCRs, anything — figuring out how they worked and then putting them back together. So naturally, in high school I took auto shop class. Because of auto shop, I learned about brakes, engines, diagnostics, troubleshooting and other skills mechanics need to know. I even worked in an auto repair shop in high school.
Here’s how I got into aviation. I have a family member in California who had a friend who owned a Corvette. I loved the car and asked what he did. He told me he worked as a maintenance manager for Northwest Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). He took me on a tour of LAX. I was blown away, walking past these giant planes and jets, including 747s! I knew right then I wanted to work on airplanes.
I told my parents and they helped me find a school. I enrolled in a 15-month course at Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey. I learned the basics about airplanes and aircraft maintenance, including hydraulics, engines, electrical, sheet metal and FAA regulations. When I was done with the course, I met the FAA qualifications for my A&P [airframe and powerplant] license, which means I can work on aircraft. What’s really cool is the license is forever. Once you have it, you have it. You don’t have to keep getting recertified.
I guess being a mechanic has always been in my blood. I’m always working on something — my cars or my motorcycle.
What does a typical day look like?
Most airlines are 24/7 operations, so shift work is involved. I work the day shift now, 5:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., four days a week.
As a lead mechanic, my day starts with setting up the shift, checking what needs to be done that day and assigning my crew jobs. We work on Airbus A320 passenger planes.
Assignments for the mechanics could be just general maintenance or bigger jobs such as replacing an engine. As the lead, I'm also responsible for checking inventory, going through emails, ordering parts, checking the workload over the next few days for each aircraft, setting the maintenance schedule and then assigning the manpower accordingly. A regular mechanic, like I said, just gets an assignment and goes to work.
What do you like most about being an aircraft mechanic?
I love working outside. I don’t work in a hanger. The weather is great year-round in Vegas, and it’s really not that hot in the summer. I just like coming to work, working on airplanes and leading my team.
I don’t like the fluctuation in our shifts. In a couple of weeks, I could be working a 12-hour shift from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We submit shift bids every six months, and the shifts are rewarded based on seniority.
What’s the most common misconception about your job?
Some people think that because I’m an aircraft mechanic, that it’s space-age or something! It’s really not that different from working in an auto repair shop. There are just more rules and regulations. The other misconception is that I had to take a lot of schooling. When in reality you can go to school like I did or bypass schooling if you worked as an apprentice for a certain number of hours. It usually takes three to four years of apprentice working to qualify for testing for an A&P license. Also, military veterans who worked in aviation can use their military time to help qualify for an A&P license more quickly.
What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?
I wish I had known about the different kinds of maintenance. There is hanger maintenance and line maintenance. Line maintenance is working on planes as they come in and out of the airport. I started in line maintenance and then switched to hanger, which wasn't for me. Now I am back to line. I never would have tried hanger if I had known more about it.
What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
You definitely have to have a sense of humor and like working in a team setting. You usually are working with someone else. You also have to have tough skin, especially when you are first starting out. The senior guys will be busting your chops. They want to see what you know and if you're willing to learn new things.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
Running my own auto shop or working at a dealership.
Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
Honestly, I want to stay at the company I work for and work my way up to become a base maintenance manager. That’s the person who runs the entire maintenance operation.
Want to know more?