How to Keep Your Aircraft Mechanic Happy

Pilots and aircraft mechanics have always had somewhat of a strained relationship. But it doesn't have to be that way. Learning to work with your mechanic is important; it can ease much of the stress involved with aircraft ownership and make everyone's life easier. And trusting your mechanic is imperative. Your relationship with your mechanic will either give you confidence that your aircraft is being maintained in the best way possible, or it will scare you to death. Knowing your airplane is in good hands will make for a safer and more satisfying flying life. 

But maintaining your relationship with your, uh, maintainer, is not always a simple thing to do. In a pilot’s mind, maintainers just don’t understand them. If the airplane is broken, it needs to be fixed, right? And it needs to be fixed quickly so that they can get back in the air. Like right now. Passengers are waiting! But wait - it costs how much

Aircraft mechanics think pilots complain too much, break things too often, and are incompetent about aircraft systems. And they don’t understand why pilots always expect their airplane to be fixed right at that moment when they're the last on the priority list. This relationship can often lead to frustration and anger, and it’s an all too common way of life for pilots and mechanics.

Whether you’re a pilot in a large flight department or the owner of a single airplane, maintenance is always something you’ll have to deal with. And it’s important to keep a positive relationship with your aircraft maintainer. They’re the last person you want mad at you, right?

Here are a few tips pilots need to know to keep their A&P mechanics happy:

Be nice.

aircraft mechanic
Getty/Hans Neleman

 Let's just start small. First, just be nice. Asking your mechanic to fix your airplane is always better than demanding he or she do it RIGHT NOW. Depending on what type of agreement you have and how busy your mechanic is, they may or may not get to your airplane right when you want or need them to. It’s just part of aircraft ownership, and if you don’t like it, you’re going to need to pay your own personal mechanic to be on call 24/7 and somehow make the case for keeping a well-stocked parts supply on site. 

Know your airplane.

US Government Photo

 You can’t exactly make a case for making maintenance decisions on your own or alongside your mechanic if you don’t know your airplane’s systems. The problem is that a lot of pilots try to manage their maintainers by telling them how to fix things, which is condescending, and a really quick way to make your A&P mechanic angry. Telling the A&P what to do only works when you actually know what you’re talking about, and if you do know what you’re talking about, the mechanic is likely to agree with you, which means that you’ll both be able to avoid any confrontation. And if you do really know your airplane systems, you’ll know when your mechanic isn’t cutting it. 

Ask for an explanation.

Aircraft mechanic
Getty/Mark Edward Atkinson/Tracey Lee

 If you get the urge to argue with your mechanic, it might help to first ask for further explanation. Ask your mechanic what he’s dealing with. Try to understand. Perhaps he’ll take you to the hangar and show you the broken part, or maybe he’ll sit you down at the computer and show you the problem with getting a part shipped to you overnight. Or maybe he’ll just tell you to be quiet and get out of the way. That last response is quite common, and there are probably times when you should just trust that he will do his job and get out of his way. But if that’s an answer you don’t like, then find a mechanic who communicates better. If you can’t can’t communicate successfully with your mechanic, you’ll both often end up frustrated. 

Stay out of the way.

Man on beach
Man on beach. Getty/Caroline von Tuempling

Really. Go relax. Have a beer. Nobody wants someone standing next to them telling them how to do their job, or just chatting away and distracting them from their work. He didn't become a mechanic to have a pilot tell him what to do. Try not to “help” unless you’re invited to. Helping your mechanic when they haven’t asked for it is an easy way to drive them crazy.

Write clearly.

Getty/Patrick Strattner

 When an airplane breaks, you’ll often write it in a squawk book or an aircraft logbook. If your mechanic can’t read the handwriting in the squawk book or on the note you left for him, it’s less than helpful. 

Be concise about the problem.

magnifying glass
Getty/Dimitri Otis

So maybe you can write clearly. But how good is your explanation of the problem? Mechanics despise the uber-ambiguous squawk where the pilot writes something like “de-icing system is bad.” The A&P is left scratching his head, wondering what exactly the pilot means by this. Was it not working at all? Did it stop working in flight? Were the gauges accurate? Was it working at one point during the flight but changed at some point? Was it causing other problems, like any overheating problems? Did the problem subside or get worse with changes? Be clear about the problem, and learn to troubleshoot on your own as much as possible before handing it over to your mechanic so that he doesn't waste a lot of time trying to diagnose the problem. 

Pay them. Right away. In cash.

Photo © Tom Kelley/Getty

 If you expect you’re A&P to be fast and efficient when fixing your airplane, then they’ll expect fast and efficient payment in return. And paying your bill right away will ensure that you stay on their priority list. Just like any other hard-working human being who needs to earn a living, if your mechanic shows up for work and has two airplanes to work on, he’s probably going to prioritize the one who will pay right away and defer the one whose owner never pays his bill on time. Especially around Christmas. 

Do your homework and help where you can.

aircraft mechanic, A&P
Getty/ Hinterhaus Productions

Order your own parts so that he doesn’t have to spend time chasing them down. Have your logbook and other paperwork in order, and offer to help with small jobs like removing wheel fairings or cleaning up the old parts so he can send them back in. Get to know the updates and regulations for what's happening in the industry so that you know which parts you'll need. If your mechanic suggests an avionics change to get up to speed with ADS-B, for example, you should be somewhat aware of what you'll want and need for ADS-B operations

Don't object to the paperwork costs.

Getty/ Hinterhaus Productions

Much time and money might be spent doing paperwork, and a good mechanic will do this paperwork and will charge you for the time spent doing it. Just like you have to document your currency and training, A&P mechanics have to spend hours researching and documenting compliance. Instead of resisting this process, embrace the idea that your mechanic abides by the regulations willingly, does his homework and intends to do the right thing by making sure your aircraft is airworthy. If he didn't make your airplane airworthy, wouldn't you object to that, too? Paperwork is just part of keeping your airplane flying. Be glad your mechanic is doing things the right way.

Keep your own records.


 You'll probably want to keep your own maintenance records, whether they're duplicate records of maintenance items that were complied with, or whether they're your own records or what was done to your airplane and what wasn't. You don't want to spend time down the road trying to remember whether or not your mechanic accomplished the ELT inspection like you asked him to when you brought the airplane in for a tire change. Keep track of everything. Note everything. 

When all else fails, bring lunch.

Airport food. Getty/Gaku Takahashi

 If you expect your mechanic to work nonstop around the clock on your airplane, at least bring lunch. Aircraft mechanics don’t often stop for lunch, so they’ll be more than accepting of a snack or two waiting for them in between airplane problems. And a Christmas card might help, too. 

When you find a good one, don't let him go.

This might sound like advice for finding a wife, but the same rule applies for finding a mechanic, so here goes: When you find one that you trust, don't let him go. Mechanics are in demand right now to begin with, and you don't want to end up without one. And you don't want to end up on the bottom of another mechanic's priority list, because chances are good that he has a lot of other customers that he prefers to deal with ahead of someone he doesn't already have a relationship with. So keep your mechanic happy by paying him on time, bringing coffee and donuts, and otherwise leaving him alone.