5 Tips for Internships

Affix Wipline 13000 floats to a Viking DHC-6 Twin Otter to make it a floatplane. (Courtesy Wipaire Inc.)
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Jason Erickson is the director of maintenance at Wipaire, Inc., a 225-person maker of airplane floats in St. Paul, Minnesota, which also does airframe modifications, interiors, avionics, and maintenance. He offers advice for potential interns.

1. Initiate.

Wipaire’s Gateway to Success internship program started when Alex Walker, who had just completed a year of study in airframe-and-powerplant mechanics, asked to work as an intern. Erickson thought Why not? and offered Walker a job in which he could learn a few things about airframe maintenance and modification. Today, Walker is a mechanic for Delta Air Lines.

The lesson, says Erickson, is copy Walker’s approach. He says, “If you have a hometown airport that has a maintenance facility, go in and say, ‘Hey I want to be an A&P. Would you be willing to take me on for the summer?’ ”

2. Get it on your résumé.

“When I’m looking for an employee, I want to see how a prospect can adapt to aviation,” says Erickson. “If she’s already had an aviation job or internship, that’s a big asset. We pay our interns a decent summer-job wage, but if you can afford to, even do it for free. It may get you to a paying job.”

Jason Erickson has a heart-to-heart with each intern at the end of their time at Wipaire. (Courtesy Wipaire Inc.)

3. Keep it local.

Even if you get paid for an internship, you’re not going to be making a ton of money. Erickson says most of his interns have had family and friends in the area so they don’t have to worry too much about housing costs and transportation.

4. Be professional.

Erickson has written letters of recommendation for every intern who has completed Wipaire’s program, but he doesn’t guarantee that one will be written. “I had one intern who displayed some interesting music and coffee pot integration in his toolbox,” he says. “So I told him that those things may seem harmless, but it just sends a bad message.”

5. Open your mind.

Erickson notes that an A&P certificate is called “a license to learn.” In a Wipaire internship, he says, the new workers stand side by side with experienced mechanics and work with supervision on real airplanes. “By the end of the summer,” says Erickson, “they’re one of the team.”

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