Myrtle Beach Branch Campus, SC
Program: Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT)
Employment: American Airlines, Line Avionics Technician
After nearly a decade spent making a living by teaching and playing music, Alex Fisher decided to master a whole new set of instruments: he changed careers to become an aircraft mechanic.
“I worked in all kinds of music performance: I taught, I worked at churches, I played musical theater, symphonies, big bands, you name it,” says Fisher. But when he tried to find a reliable teaching position at a college or university, he realized the laws of supply and demand were greatly stacked against him.
Realizing he needed to find a more secure career path, Fisher spoke with his father, a veteran aviation mechanic. “I was kind of split on becoming a pilot or a mechanic,” Fisher recalls. In the end, Fisher enrolled at the Myrtle Beach campus of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), where he earned his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate in just 16 months.
“As an older student, I already knew what my study habits were, I knew how to network, and I came back to school with a clear gameplan.” Those advantages helped Fisher land the job he had been hoping for: as a line maintenance technician for American Airlines.
Fisher says his PIA experience was crucial in helping him get hired quickly, first at Piedmont Airlines and now at American. “Compared to mechanics who’ve been working in the industry for longer, I definitely had to pick up the pace in my learning once I got to American. But I actually learned a lot that helped fill in that knowledge gap in advance by asking my PIA instructors questions whenever I could — before school, after school, during breaks. They were always very willing to answer questions. It was so helpful to be able to ask someone like my avionics electrical instructor, Mr. Bourne, extra questions on break and him being willing to spend the break giving me a full explanation and really teaching the information.”
Fisher’s path to working for a major airline shortly after graduation is not a traditional career path for most new aviation hires, who often begin at smaller regional airlines and work their way up to the majors over time. But his story could become much more common over the next 5-10 years, due to a generational shift in aviation employment. “Right now, a lot of veteran mechanics across the industry are within five years of retirement,” says Fisher. This means many roles will soon need to be filled by new technicians.
As a PIA alumnus, Fisher isn’t just proud to work for American Airlines; he’s proud to finally have a full-time job that he truly enjoys. “Being employed full-time really means a lot to me,” Fisher says. “Going from a field where it was really hard to find a job to being enrolled in a program at PIA where — when I was only halfway through and I didn’t even have my powerplant certificate yet, but three different regional airlines were already telling me to apply and giving me unofficial job offers — the demand and appreciation is just mind-boggling.”
The best part of all? Fisher didn’t have to give up playing the music he loves in order to change careers; now he gets to do it for fun. “Music is a lot more fun now that I don’t have to depend on it for a living,” says Fisher, who picks up the occasional gig playing in the orchestra for local musicals. “Working as an aviation technician gives people like me the freedom to do what we love on our own terms and with less pressure, so we can actually enjoy it.”