Have you ever thought about becoming a licensed airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic, but put the idea out of your head because of the daunting requirements?
According to the FAA website, you can get the experience you need to become a certified mechanic in one of three ways: You can sign up for a two-year program at one of the aviation maintenance technician schools. You can work for an FAA repair station or FBO under the supervision of a certified mechanic for 30 months. Or you can join one of the armed services and get training and experience in aircraft maintenance. Of course, the FAA has to confirm the validity of your logbook entries to verify you meet practical experience requirements before you can take the test.
For many of us middle-aged (or older-vintage) flyers, there’s just too much everyday life going on to put things on hold for two years (or more) to log enough experience to satisfy the FAA and pass the testing process.
Hold on there! The FAA skipped over the relatively new class of Light Sport Repairman. In fact, a Light Sport Repairman with a maintenance rating can take you all the way down the road to an A&P.
The background to this is when the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) rules came out, the FAA recognized that requiring an A&P for maintenance and inspection of simple Light Sport Aircraft might be problematic. As anyone who owns but is not the original builder of an Experimental airplane knows, it can be a hassle to find an A&P that is both available and willing to do a condition inspection. Proponents of the Light Sport concept understood that adding scores of new aircraft to the maintenance and inspection burden of a limited number of A&Ps could only lead to long waits and high costs. Since the idea of LSA was to make recreational flying more affordable, some special considerations were in order.
In what can only be described as a remarkable example of cooperation between the various stakeholders, including but not limited to the FAA, manufacturers, educational institutions and industry advocates such as the EAA and the AOPA, the Light Sport rules that emerged included two innovative options to train and license Light Sport repairmen.
The first is a Light Sport Repairman Inspection certificate (LSR-I). This is a particularly unique certificate. The training is an intensive 16-hour curriculum over two days followed by a test to confirm you have absorbed and understood the material. Getting a Light Sport Inspection rating allows you to do annual inspections only on your E-LSA. You cannot inspect any other E-LSA. If you sell yours, you cannot inspect it for the new owner. If you buy a different E-LSA, you have to apply to the local FAA field office (FSDO) and have them replace your inspection certificate for a new one specific to your new E-LSA. Most people who take this course already own an E-LSA, but you could take the course in anticipation of purchasing an E-LSA in the future.
While an inspection certificate is a great option for E-LSA owners, the real game changer is the Light Sport Repairman Maintenance certificate (LSR-M). With it you are authorized to perform for hire maintenance and return an S-LSA to service as well as perform annual condition or 100-hour inspections on any LSA. You can look up the detail about both ratings and more in FAA Advisory Circular (AC) No: 65-32A “Certification of Repairmen (Light Sport Aircraft).” There are some basic requirements, such as being proficient in English, but owning an airplane is not one of them. Anyone who wants to work on and inspect an S-LSA can take the course, which is 120 hours.
I took the 120-hour course in October of 2018. The class I attended was conducted by Rainbow Aviation, which at the time was located at the airport in Corning, California. They have since relocated to Missouri, and from the pictures that Carol Carpenter sent me, the classroom facilities look like a major upgrade.
There are other operations that provide maintenance training, but Rainbow was the first to get their curriculum approved by the FAA and they probably have more experience teaching the course than anyone.
At Rainbow, class sizes are limited to about a dozen students, and the time is split up 65% lecture and 35% practical. The practical training is both in the shop and on the flight line, and you can expect to get your hands dirty.
Upon signing up, I received an email packet with a ton of information on where to stay, the course outline and a questionnaire to help them prepare for my arrival. About six weeks prior to class starting, I received another email with details on what to bring (safety goggles, earplugs, etc.) as well as a series of reference documents on corrosion, hardware and safety wiring that were required reading.
My class was a mix of young and old, male and female. From what I understand, this was typical.
Everyone had a slightly different reason for wanting to get their repairman maintenance certificate. Some had jobs lined up, others planned to do inspections as a side business. The young lady in our class, Ann from Oregon, took the class so she could maintain and inspect her father’s S-LSA. For me, at age 60, it was a combination of factors. My primary reason was there are a lot of E-LSA and S-LSA with Jabiru engines out there, but very few A&Ps willing to work on them. I felt I could fill a niche by being a West Coast Jabiru guy. Another factor was, even though an LSR-M is not the same as an A&P, getting certified as an aircraft mechanic was an homage to my dad, who got his CAA (pre FAA) “aircraft and engine” certificates in the 1930s. (He was certified as an instructor on engines in 1941.) Although he died in 1998, I felt a compelling need to keep the tradition alive.
Lastly, as a certified Light Sport repairman-maintenance, any work you log on an S-LSA, E-LSA or any N-numbered Experimental, including building (as long as the project has an N-number reserved) counts as “being under the supervision of a certified mechanic” and can therefore be applied toward the 30-month minimum for the A&P exam. This is a great option for serial builders. After a couple of projects one could easily qualify for the A&P exam!
For more information visit www.rainbowaviation.com or Google “Light Sport repairman training providers.”