Those who dream of hitting the skies can do so for a living, whether it be in the pilot’s seat or on the ground. Careers in aviation offer many opportunities for advancement in piloting, engineering and mechanics, airport operations, and aircraft manufacturing. These jobs often take place in commercial airlines, private manufacturing companies, airports, and government organizations. Many aviation and aerospace manufacturing companies hire technicians and engineers to perform repairs and maintenance services on various types of aircraft before they are sold. Others may need technicians to perform tests and develop new elements for various aircraft. Those with a strong background and a degree in mathematics, science or industrial engineering may fare particularly well in aviation.
This guide provides information about different types of jobs in the aviation field, degrees available and flight school options, career growth potential and skills needed to succeed in this field.
Those interested in a job in electrical engineering can explore jobs as an aircraft electrical installer or technician. These technicians are responsible for performing tests, troubleshooting equipment and systems, and developing or modifying electric components. They typically work in an engineering department.
Individuals with a background in engineering can serve as an aircraft manufacturing engineer. These engineers re responsible for developing and instilling different types of manufacturing systems for a certain type of aircraft, developing maintenance programs, and meeting production quotas. Some are responsible for overseeing a team of engineers on the factory floor. The job is highly technical in nature and may require extensive on-the-job training.
Individuals interested solely in flying different types of aircraft will enjoy a career as an airline pilot. Airline pilots must learn how to operate their aircraft, follow strict safety protocol, and accumulate a certain amount of flight hours to advance in their career. Most commercial airlines work on a ‘seniority’ basis where pilots are assigned a certain number of flying hours depending on how long they have served as a pilot. Airline pilots work their way through the system as a Captain, First Officer, and Flight Engineer. Other job options in this field include regional airline pilots and military pilots.
All major airports function as large-scale businesses and require the leadership of an experienced director or manager. The airport operations manager oversees all aspects of business management, economics, public relations, and personnel management. They may develop and enforce rules and regulations for the property, manage budgets, and train employees.
These airport professionals work at FAA airport traffic control towers to direct all air traffic and make sure all pilots receive appropriate taxi, takeoff, and landing instructions. It is a fast-paced job during flight takeoff and landing times, and requires strong decision-making skills and sound judgment. Air traffic controllers may work at the terminal or at Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC). They are responsible for managing all communications with the pilots and providing assistance in the event of an emergency.
Always in demand, aviation maintenance technicians are responsible for checking and preparing electric and mechanical components of an aircraft. They must comply with certain standards and perform various safety checks. This is a dynamic career with several options to specialize. Those with military experience already have valuable training that can be applied towards the FAA credits for practical experience for mechanics certification.
Those with a strong attention to detail and an interest in materials and manufacturing can enjoy a career on the factory floor as a quality control specialist. Inspectors, testers, and graders are responsible fore checking all parts and materials as they make their way down the assembly line to ensure everything meets safety and quality standards. These professionals amy be involved with performing detailed tests, producing reports, and using sophisticated software and tools to perform their tasks with a high degree of accuracy.
Nearly 140,000 aviation mechanics and specialists were employed in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Salaries vary widely in this industry with higher-paying jobs available in the engineering and manufacturing sector. Demand for aviation professionals that specialize in a certain type of aircraft or field is on the rise with the latest technological advances. Airline pilots and managers with several years of experience and those who have been with a particular company for many years can enjoy more attractive bonuses and privileges throughout their career.
Many jobs in the aviation field are highly technical in nature and require a strong background in mathematics, engineering, and related fields. Most position require working as a team with other engineers and aviation professionals so strong communication and interpersonal skills are essential for handling day-to-day job duties. Strong attention to detail and being able to follow rules and protocol are also essential skills to have in any aviation job.
Almost all aviation professionals need to have at least a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree to enter this field. Completing an FAA-approved training program is mandatory for certain positions — the Airframe and/or Powerplant (A&P) Certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration is a basic requirement for aircraft maintenance technicians and can be a valuable certificate to have when working in aviation mechanics and engineering. Many companies and employers provide hands-on training for new employees and encourage employees to grow with the company by investing in additional training programs.
Other certifications relevant to this industry include:
The types of tools and technology used on the job vary significantly by employer, job type, and location. Many companies and employers provide rigorous hands-on training programs so that employees can learn computer software programs, safety protocol, and learn how to use different types of equipment to perform aircraft maintenance procedures. Aviation professionals must have strong computer skills and be comfortable learning new technology to perform well at their job. Some jobs, such as airline pilot jobs, may require using apps to perform wind calculations, check altitude, and perform other basic tasks.
Examples of tools and technologies used in this field include:
Air traffic is expected to increase gradually through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which means job prospects and opportunities for commercial and private airline pilots, aircraft manufacturers, and those employed by airports look promising. Newer aircraft are expected to require less maintenance than older models, which may limit job opportunities for certain types of aviation mechanics and avionics professionals.
Demand for aviation mechanics and technicians who specialize in a particular type of aircraft, such as military aircraft, agricultural aircraft, or a particular brand of aircraft, as new technologies emerge in this industry. Recent technological developments, such as advanced GPS systems, aerial imaging devices, aerial applicators, and helicopter technology, require specialized maintenance services performed by a trained and skilled technician. Those employed by government organizations and private aerospace or aviation manufacturing plants, may enjoy higher salary ranges throughout their career.
Demand for airline pilots is expected to remain steady through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and those with more experience and flight hours can enjoy job advancement and more benefits throughout their career lifetime. An improving U.S. economy, the growth of international carriers and a pilot shortage also affect a higher demand for trained pilots.
Since many aviation careers require a strong technical and engineering background, those with some experience in this field can branch outside of the aviation field to explore jobs in aerospace, civil engineering, and even computer administration. Most of these jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree and some work experience. Many employers provide on-the-job training regardless of educational background and work experience since these jobs can be highly specialized and require in-depth knowledge about the company’s processes, products, and procedures.
The field of aviation and aerospace engineering is fairly diverse and specialization can lead to more attractive job opportunities and higher salaries. Still, individuals with a background in flight, aircraft engineering, and avionics can transfer their skills to several attractive fields to explore jobs in computer engineering and technology, industrial engineering, manufacturing, and vehicle engineering.