How to Become a Licensed Aircraft Engineer (LAE) in the U.K.
I’m guessing if your reading this, you’ve got an interest in becoming an LAE (Licensed Aircraft Engineer).
You’ve just passed the first stepping stone in this new and thrilling world called aviation! Hold onto that desire as it will be your guiding light at the darkest and coldest times of your career! If you can push through changing last-minute aircraft engines at 6 am on a ramp at -11C in February, you are going to be able to tackle anything they throw at you!
So, who and what am I?
My name is Marcelo, I’m currently 24 years of age, and in October 2021, I will hit
the 7-year mark in this peculiar world of aviation. My career path has allowed me to travel around Europe for work, ranging from experiencing the cold, windy mornings of Hamburg, Germany, to sweating out my soul in Spain’s blistering August heat. Currently, I’m based in Barcelona airport, Spain (ICAO LEBL for any AV geeks out there), but my aviation career took off in London, United Kingdom, in 2014.
I am what we call in the European industry a “non-certifying staff/mechanic.”
What does that mean?
In simple terms, I can change, inspect, remove, and install a vast majority of parts and components from an aircraft, but I cannot sign or certify my work or anyone else’s. This is perfect for someone who is new in the industry and is still learning the “ropes,” but if you’re anything like me, this will soon start to tire you, and you’ll be craving progression sooner than you think…
So how can I change that?
Well, for that, we need to head back to 2013, when a fresh out of secondary/high school 16-year-old Marcelo wanted to pursue his passion for aviation. This is all great and well, but I, like many other people looking to follow their dreams, don’t have access to anyone in their family that either works for an airline or a maintenance organization that can guide me.
So, what’s the next step?
Google! Google was my best friend. After hours of researching with mother, we found out that the British industry overall relied extensively on apprenticeships to promote and grow their workforce.
It was just my luck that the national airline, British Airways, had an apprenticeship course running in 2014 and was looking for new participants to join their course.
I cannot recommend it enough! If you are looking to start a new career in aviation, look at the National Apprenticeship programs in your country. They tend to be primarily sponsored by the Government and provide tons of support. It also means that although your salary won’t be crazy, it can help pay bills as not everyone can spend 3 years without having any monetary income.
Unfortunately, apprenticeships in the UK are no longer how they used to be back in the day. Back then, you could do a direct entry interview with the company and get taken on. Nowadays, things have become a bit more complicated, and in my case with BA, the only way to access the apprenticeship was to enroll myself in a selection of “colleges” that they worked with.
Once enrolled, you would follow a curriculum for 9-10months and get taught the ins and outs of aircraft maintenance, ranging from measuring a block of aluminum with a Vernier caliper to the effects of pain medication when it comes to certifying tasks.
These schools essentially teach you the foundations of Aircraft Maintenance and, in a way, take away some work from the approved training organizations so that you don’t “go in blind” on your first day at the training school.
The apprenticeship program is pretty much designed and structured in a way that once you finish your 3-year program (the typical length of programs are 3-4 years), you won’t need to wait very long to able to apply for your first license; as long as you have followed the requirements set by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).
*Let me point out that it is also possible to become a mechanic and then become licensed without carrying out a course/apprenticeship, but it will be challenging as these programs give you all the required qualifications that are required by the CAA for progression and most employers want people to have some formal training.*
If you are like me and have carried out an approved course under a registered EASA Part-147 training school, you’ll know what this is about, but for those of you that haven’t, let’s talk about CAT A, B1/2, and C license within aircraft over 5700kg or more commonly known as ”large commercial aircraft,”
These are the requirements set by the Civil Aviation Authority having carried an approved course or if you are planning on gaining a license by your own free will without attending a course:
For Category A license:
- Three years of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft, if the applicant has no previous relevant technical training, or
- Two years of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft and completion of training considered relevant by the competent authority as a skilled worker, in a technical trade; or
- One year of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft and completion of a basic training course approved in accordance with Annex IV (Part-147)
For Category B1/B2 license: (B1 being put in simple terms anything mechanical and B2 anything that is electronic or software related)
- Five years of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft if the applicant has no previous relevant technical training; or
- Three years of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft and completion of training considered relevant by the competent authority as a skilled worker, in a technical trade; or
- Two years of practical maintenance experience on operating aircraft and completion of a basic training course approved in accordance with Annex IV (Part-147)
For Category C license:
- This is only achieved by certifying 3 years as either B1 or B2 in heavy/ base maintenance tasks as support staff.
- ALL your experience needs to be logged in a recognized logbook provided by your national CAA (in the UK, it’s called a CAP741) as it is going to be combed through by a quality department and the CAA (and yes, they do look, so don’t go putting any “extra” jobs in there). Nowadays, most logbooks are in digital format, so a computer or tablet can be used to write all your experience down.
- Now gaining any of these licenses is not all going to be hands-on “nitty-gritty stuff” there is also a theory element to this, and it comes in a 17 exam package depending If you are looking to become either B1, B2, or both. Here is the simplified list for you (contains hyperlink with more details):
M05 - Digital Techniques electronic instrument systems
M11A - Turbine Aeroplane Aerodynamics, Structures and Systems
M12 - Helicopter Aerodynamics, Structures, and Systems
M13 - Aircraft Aerodynamics, Structures and Systems
(Just a little note regarding the exams, I know it can look like a lot of exams and a lot of theory but trust me, it’s a manageable amount if you are structured and disciplined with your studying. The most important thing you need to remember is that these exams are not a race to get through them!
The syllabus will teach you a vast amount of topics, which at the time will seem dull and boring but trust me, down the line, there will be a day that all that info comes in handy.
My advice for anyone looking at getting these exams out the way and becoming
I recommend that you get these out of the way in a structured manner, bit by bit, and before you know it, you’ve done them all!)
Paperwork/fees: As you can imagine, all good things in life require a fair amount of paperwork and, of course, a fee; the paperwork will consist of:
- -Passport/ ID card
- - Experience logbook
- -Apprenticeship papers if you have carried out one. ( if you haven’t, it’s not a problem, a different amount of experience may be asked of you)
- -EASA FORM 19 (standard government form for license application, can be downloaded online.)
- -Any other trade qualifications that you hold, this can help reduce the amount of experience they ask of you.
- -Exam module examination certificates (see the list is above)
- -FEE (340£ UK CAA ONLY, other EU states may differ ) if working for an airline or a maintenance org, they normally cover the fee, but if you apply for a license privately, you will need to take responsibility for that fee… (it can be a bit steep, I know).
- Age limit: As you can imagine, there is a lower age limit for achieving licensed status, according to Commission Regulation EU 1321/2014 annex III: An individual may apply and receive a maintenance license at the age of 18 but will only be able to use their certifying privileges at the age of 21.
Once you’ve completed all the above steps, you’re pretty much ready to apply for a license. Congrats!
To finish off, I’d like to pass on some advice:
- Never be afraid to ask questions; there is no such thing as a silly question.
- Try to learn as much as you can. You’re going to be surrounded by people with a wealth of knowledge, make the most out of it.
- Be a team player. In aircraft maintenance, there is no such thing as a lone ranger.
- If you get the chance to travel for work, grab every opportunity you’ve got and see the world.
- Finally, enjoy your work, have fun and remember that if you enjoy doing a job, you will never have to work a day in your life!!
Best of luck to you all, and see you on the ramp
Sir, I glad you post such a informative content but I’m from India and I need to join foreign apprenticeship program and I have completed my 3 years course with 8 modules.. please enlighten me sir. Thank you.!