I often have a discussion with my peers as to where in the industry does an aircraft mechanic get his/her best experience; in an MRO (Maintenance Repair & Operations (Overhaul)) or with an airline?
I have been in both environments and in my humble opinion I say with an airline and here is why. Working for an MRO is a great opportunity to learn about airplanes as to where things are, how systems are configured in the aircraft, etc. It’s a great place for a new mechanic to learn that is beginning his/her career. However, I would not make it a career because you will likely be doing the same work repeatedly. The best mechanic is one who is well rounded. That means not being just a parts changer but also being able to troubleshoot. In an MRO you will not likely be given the opportunity to troubleshoot. This is reserved for people who have been there for a long time and have proven themselves.
With an airline, you will be also doing the same work repeatedly but the twist is the dynamic nature of line-maintenance. Line-maintenance, day shift, is where you will be recovering and launching airplanes. Your job is to keep the airplanes flying. Maintenance that can be deferred will be, until the aircraft returns at night. The lion-share of maintenance repairs and troubleshooting will be done at night. This is one of the places were I learned the most in my aviation career.
I got on with a major airline as a new Line Mechanic. I came in with U.S. Air Force heavy jet and FBO (Fixed Base Operator) corporate jet experience. My first night of work, I was assigned to a B-737-200 that needed a service check, had an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) and #1 VHF radio problem. It was my baby and it had to be fixed before morning. Our shifts were from 11PM to 7AM.
The APU problem was easy. It would not start. I had a fellow mechanic try to start it as I stood under it with the access doors open. As it began to start, I did not hear the igniters fire. Problem: igniter box failure.
On the VHF radio problem, I checked the tray of the #1 VHF radio that was good and swapped the #2 radio with #1. The problem was now in the #2 position. Problem: Bad #1 VHF radio.
My fellow mechanic worked the service check. I obtained the parts I needed and fixed both problems. The jet was ready and we were assigned another aircraft.
This is one of many scenarios you will encounter in airline line-maintenance. You will have to know aircraft systems (of each type) to enable you to think on your feet to fix the aircraft in the time required. When you encounter and successfully fix enough problems, you will gain a great reputation in no time. This will open other doors for you like road trips, employee of the month, etc.
No doubt, working at an MRO will give you location knowledge. Line-maintenance will make you think.
For more tips on how to learn systems knowledge quickly and set you up for faster promotion, get the book “Take Charge of Your Aviation Career.” It will give you an edge over your peers for years to come.