The Name Game

By Sam Longo — April 08, 2013

Since the dawn of powered flight, repairing and maintaining aircraft has been our job. That fact has remained constant. However, with the influx of new technology, there seems to be a resurrection of that age-old debate regarding what we call ourselves . . .

From my earliest days of building balsa wood models in my parents’ basement, my dream was to one day become an aircraft mechanic. As I glued together ribs and stringers to produce tissue papered wings, that vocation seemed a logical progression and a realistic future goal. From those fledgling forays into aircraft technology to present day, I have always felt that the term “aircraft mechanic” was an honourable, positive designation of my chosen profession.

Recently, through the magic of social media such as LinkedIn and PAMA discussion forums, the “proper” moniker for our profession seems to be hotly debated and ripe for a change. The term “aircraft technician” seems to be winning more favour these days, despite the fact that the dictionary provides proof that the term mechanic is a better descriptor of what we do. By definition, a mechanic is “a person skilled in maintaining or operating machinery or motors”; meanwhile a technician is listed merely as “a person skilled in a particular technical field”. A good case in point would be the job of an X-ray technician. They photograph your bones with a machine, but have little or no ability to repair that machine. In my opinion, the term mechanic provides a more accurate accounting of our day-to-day, hands-on working reality.

Many comments from our US counterparts also felt that the term Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) sounds more professional than their long standing designation of A&P Mechanic. Speaking as a Canadian who holds both these titles, I feel that the term Aircraft Maintenance Engineer is not ideally suited to our profession and is somewhat misleading when speaking to people outside the aviation community.

Transport Canada issues this federal license in much the same way as the FAA, essentially tracking and verifying the appropriate time and experience and testing, as required. However, the reality is that we, as Canadians, are not engineers in the university-educated perceived sense of the word. We, like our American brothers to the south, are mechanics, as per the aforementioned dictionary reference.

Interestingly, when looking for additional guidance in terminology, the dictionary further muddies the water by giving a secondary description of the word engineer as “a person who repairs and maintains mechanical or electrical devices”. Hence, the continued discussion and confusion.

I am truly mystified why the term mechanic continues to generate such a negative vibe, particularly in North America. In many other countries, it appears to be a very honourable trade. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. In less fortunate economic climates, having the ability to fix something that ceases to function brings a hero-like status, while here in our throw-it-away consumer society, it just makes you appear (heaven forbid) too poor to replace it.

This brand of social-economic prejudice reminds me of a situation that transpired when I was a young man with a newly minted AME Licence. My girlfriend, Sara, and I were hosting her mother for lunch. It was my first meeting with her mom and I was eager to make a good impression. I can actually be quite charming when the need arises, so I pulled out all the stops. She was a prim and proper, university-educated woman of Welsh ancestry. Her first question for me after our friendly introduction was: “and what do you do for a living?” My proud response was that I was an aircraft mechanic with Air Canada. She immediately rolled her eyes, and with uninhibited disgust, replied: “Oh, a mechanic!” I was immediately dismissed as socially unacceptable and unequivocally unsuitable for further relations with her daughter. No amount of friendly banter thereafter could retrieve me from my blighted, blue-collar exile. Fortunately, Sara did not share her mother’s opinion and took pity on my poor decrepit soul.

These types of highly educated, technical snobs always fail to see the inherent value in a fellow human being’s ability to renew and repair anything. In most cases, I suspect they don’t have the talent or dexterity to replace the batteries in their television remote. Consequently, I learned long ago that it is best to leave them to their own devices (pun intended).
The bottom line of this ongoing name game debate is really quite simple. It really does not matter how you are branded or labelled while you diligently perform your daily or nightly duties. Mechanic, technician, and engineer are all worthy words that fit the bill to varying degrees. The most important thing to remember is that once you put the word aircraft or airplane in front of them, the pride and quality of your work must be inherent. Lives depend on it.

Perhaps the final divine confirmation on this discussion can be quoted from the Bakers School of Aeronautics newly released T-shirt which wisely decrees: GOD CREATED AIRCRAFT MECHANICS SO PILOTS CAN HAVE HEROES TOO! Amen to that.

About The Author

Sam Longo

Sam enjoys life in Toronto, Ontario. For more published writing by Sam Longo, please visit www.samlongo.com

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