Aviation & Aerospace Careers

Hero Image - Aviation & Aerospace Careers

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Search Colleges
TheBestSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Aviation is the science of designing and flying aircraft.

Aviation professionals include aerospace engineers, air traffic controllers, airline pilots, and aircraft equipment mechanics. The field of aerospace refers to the creation and operation of commercial jets, military planes, and space shuttles.

The aviation and aerospace industries offer multiple high-demand career paths for professionals interested in flying. This article introduces several common aviation and aerospace careers, including education requirements and career advancement opportunities.

The aviation industry needs qualified professionals that boast a variety of skill sets. Many entry-level aviation jobs include extensive customer service duties, which require strong communication and interpersonal skills. Some aviation roles require a college degree and/or certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), such as pilot and air traffic control specialist.

The following sections outline common aviation careers, including daily activities, average salaries, employment outlooks, and education requirements.

Aviation Jobs

Aviation Jobs

Aerospace Engineers

What Aerospace Engineers Do

Aerospace engineers design aircraft and spacecraft, including aerospace products like satellites, missiles, and launch vehicles. Aeronautical engineers design aircraft meant to fly within Earth's atmosphere, while astronautical engineers create spacecraft and satellites that function in space.

Aerospace engineers design aircraft and spacecraft, including aerospace products like satellites, missiles, and launch vehicles.

Aerospace engineers design, manufacture, and test aircraft. They evaluate designs to ensure they meet safety and environmental regulations, determine whether proposals meet technical requirements, and inspect aircraft and aerospace products for problems. Aerospace engineers also create prototypes to make sure aircraft and aerospace products function as designed.

Aerospace engineers need strong analytical and mathematical skills. Prospective aerospace engineers can earn an aviation degree to strengthen these skills. During an aviation degree, students can specialize in topics like structural design, robotics, or propulsion. Aerospace engineers often specialize in products like military aircraft, remote piloted crafts, spacecraft, or military missiles.

The average salary for an aerospace engineer exceeds $115,000. The bottom 10% of earners make under $71,000 a year, while the top 10% make more than $164,000 a year. A bachelor's degree represents the entry-level education requirement for this career.

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers typically need a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field for entry-level jobs. Some schools partner with companies to give students specialized, practical experience while earning their degree. Aerospace engineers seeking mid- and senior-level jobs can often pursue five-year programs that combine bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering.

To advance their career, aerospace engineers must earn a license as a professional engineer, which generally requires a degree from an accredited engineering program and passing scores on the Fundamentals of Engineering and the Professional Engineering exams.

Aerospace engineers can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam after earning a bachelor's degree, at which point they serve as engineers-in-training or engineer interns to acquire enough experience to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Aerospace engineers in several states must take continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.

The Best Engineering Technology Programs in the World Today

Career Advancement Opportunities

With adequate experience and education, aerospace engineers can work as technical supervisors, leading teams of engineers and technicians. They may also move into executive positions or work as engineering managers. Such advancement usually requires aerospace engineers to apprentice with more experienced engineers.
Essential Career Information for Aerospace Engineers
Median Annual Salary $115,220 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 2% (Slower than average)
Number of Jobs, 2018 67,200
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Bachelor's degree
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $164,210
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $71,640

Source: BLS

Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians

What Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians Do?

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians maintain the equipment used by aerospace engineers to develop, test, and create new aircraft and spacecraft. They also operate equipment used during the testing and producing process. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians play a vital role in the aviation industry since they help prevent the failure of aircraft and spacecraft.

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians maintain the equipment used by aerospace engineers to develop, test, and create new aircraft and spacecraft.

Working closely with aerospace engineers, aerospace engineering and operations technicians test new aircraft and aerospace products. They build testing facilities for aircraft manufacturers, create testing prototypes, and operate computer systems that ensure aircraft meet testing requirements. After performing a test, aerospace engineering and operations technicians record data. They also install instruments to monitor aircraft and spacecraft performance.

Most aerospace engineering and operations technicians work for aerospace products and parts manufacturing or engineering services organizations. They often work in industrial or manufacturing settings, where they may assemble aircraft or conduct testing using tools like a wind tunnel.

The average salary for aerospace engineering and operations technicians exceeds $67,000 a year. An associate degree represents the typical entry-level education requirement for aerospace engineering and operations technicians.

How to Become an Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians need strong communication, critical thinking, technical, and interpersonal skills. These professionals typically need at least an associate degree in aerospace engineering technology for entry-level employment. They can also earn certification through the FAA to increase their hiring potential. Aerospace technicians seeking to work on defense contracts must qualify for a security clearance, which sometimes requires U.S. citizenship.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians bring strong mechanical and technical skills to their jobs. With experience, they can move into aviation management jobs, overseeing other aerospace engineering and operations technicians. By earning a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, they can work as aerospace engineers.

Essential Career Information for Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians
Median Annual Salary $67,010 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 4% (As fast as average)
Number of Jobs, 2018 10,500
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Associate degree
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $100,310
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $42,610

Source: BLS

Air Traffic Controllers

What Air Traffic Controllers Do

Air traffic controllers monitor and direct aircraft to promote safety and minimize delays. They monitor ground traffic at airports, directing pilots on their takeoff order and runway access. They also give pilots takeoff instructions. Additionally, air traffic controllers monitor landing flights and coordinate with other traffic control centers to transfer control of flights.

Air traffic controllers monitor and direct aircraft to promote safety and minimize delays.

By managing the flow of aircraft on the ground and in the air, air traffic controllers keep air travel safe. They use computers, radars, and visual references to direct aircraft, often managing several aircraft simultaneously.

Air traffic controllers can specialize in several areas. Tower controllers direct aircraft and other vehicles on runways and taxiways. They give pilots clearance for takeoff, check flight plans, and observe traffic. Approach and departure controllers monitor aircraft within an airport's airspace. They ensure aircraft maintain separate airspace, giving clearances to other air traffic controllers. Terminal approach controllers assist aircraft within a landing or takeoff radius around an airport, while en route controllers monitor aircraft outside of an airport's airspace.

The average air traffic controller salary exceeds $124,000 a year, and an associate degree represents the entry-level education requirement.

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers must meet several requirements for entry-level jobs. They must hold U.S. citizenship, complete training from one of the colleges recognized by the FAA, graduate from the Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative, and attain a qualifying score on the FAA pre-employment test. Air traffic controllers must also begin their training under the age of 31 unless they possess a background in the field.

Professionals with previous experience, such as Armed Forces training in air traffic control, may not need to meet the FAA education requirements. Once they meet all requirements, air traffic controllers need to pass periodic drug tests in addition to passing a rigorous physical exam and performance examinations twice a year.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Entry-level air traffic controllers, also called developmental controllers, learn and master new skills in the control room before advancing to roles with higher pay and more responsibility. This training typically takes 2-4 years to complete. With adequate experience and training, air traffic controllers can work as supervisors.

Essential Career Information for Air Traffic Controllers
Median Annual Salary $124,540 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 1% (Little or no change)
Number Jobs, 2018 24,300
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Associate degree
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $178,650
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $68,090

Source: BLS

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians

What Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians Do

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians repair aircraft and perform scheduled maintenance.

Aircraft mechanics diagnose mechanical and electrical problems on aircraft. They replace defective parts, ensure replacement parts meet safety standards, and test aircraft parts using diagnostic equipment. Aircraft mechanics must also keep detailed records of their maintenance and repair work.

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians repair aircraft and perform scheduled maintenance.

Avionics technicians specialize in an aircraft's electrical system. They test electronic equipment, diagnose malfunctions based on flight test data, and assemble electrical components. Avionics technicians also install instrument panels, repair malfunctioning electrical components, and keep records of their work.

Together, aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians ensure planes fly safely. They inspect aircraft, replace malfunctioning equipment, and perform scheduled maintenance. Some specialize in types of aircraft, like helicopters or jets. They may also focus on an area of the aircraft, like the engine or hydraulic system.

On average, aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians make $63,000 a year. They often work near major airports in hangars, repair stations, or airfields.

How to Become an Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanic or Technician

Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians typically need a degree from an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technical school for entry-level employment. Some of these schools offer associate degrees, while others offer bachelor's degrees in avionics, aviation technology, or aviation maintenance management. Many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree.

Aircraft mechanics, avionics equipment mechanics, aircraft technicians, and avionics equipment technicians need certification from the FAA to practice. Although separate certifications are available for airframe mechanics and engine mechanics, employers generally prefer candidates with combined airframe and powerplant (A&P) certification. To maintain their credentials, aircraft mechanics must inspect or repair aircraft every 90 days and attend a refresher course every two years.

Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Aeronautics and Aviation

Career Advancement Opportunities

With experience, aircraft mechanics may work as a lead mechanic, lead inspector, or shop supervisor. Aviation mechanics often advance from general aviation jobs to airline jobs. Individuals with an aircraft inspector's authorization and a bachelor's degree enjoy the most career advancement opportunities.

Essential Career Information for Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics or Technicians
Median Annual Salary $63,060 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 3% (Slower than average)
Number of Jobs, 2018 157,400
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Varies
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $97,820
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $36,760

Source: BLS

Airline and Commercial Pilots

What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do

Airline and commercial pilots operate aircraft, including commercial airplanes, military helicopters, and private planes. Pilots must check the condition of their aircraft before and after the flight, monitor the plane's weight balance, verify fuel supply and weather conditions, and submit flight plans to air traffic control. Before, during, and after a flight, pilots must communicate with air traffic controllers.

Airline and commercial pilots operate aircraft, including commercial airplanes, military helicopters, and private planes.

During a flight, pilots monitor the engines and aircraft systems and navigate using cockpit instruments and visual references. Pilots work closely with copilots, air traffic controllers, and ground personnel during takeoff and landing.

Airline pilots typically work for airlines. They transport passengers and cargo, working with crew members to safely complete the flight on schedule. Commercial pilots fly charter flights and aerial tours, while corporate pilots transport company executives. Agricultural pilots fly crop dusters and other planes involved in agricultural practices, while helicopter pilots specialize in flying helicopters.

On average, airline and commercial pilots earn over $115,000 a year. They need a bachelor's degree and a commercial pilot's license for entry-level jobs.

How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot

Airline and commercial pilots typically need at least a bachelor's degree from a certified civilian flight school. They also need a commercial pilot's license, an instrument rating, and 250 hours of flight experience. In addition, many companies require pilots to undergo physical, psychological, and aptitude tests to ensure they can handle the job's pressures.

Company training for pilots often includes 6-8 weeks of ground school and an exam, 25 hours of flight time, and yearly training to maintain certification. As of 2013, airline captains and first officers need a transport pilot license. Requirements for the license include acquiring 1,500 hours of flight time, passing written and flight exams, receiving advanced instrument ratings, and passing physical examinations.

Best Online Bachelor's Programs in Aeronautics and Aviation

Career Advancement Opportunities

Typically, civilian pilots begin their careers as flight instructors, accumulating flight hours during training sessions. After completing training hours, flight instructors can work as commercial airline pilots. With experience, commercial airline pilots can advance their careers and fly corporate planes. However, union contract rules feature specific requirements regarding any position movement. First officers in non-airline jobs can advance to captain and director positions.

Essential Career Information for Airline and Commercial Pilots
Median Annual Salary $115,670 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 6% (As fast as average)
Number of Jobs, 2018 124,300
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Varies
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $208,000
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $65,690

Source: BLS

Flight Attendants

What Flight Attendants Do

Flight attendants maintain the safety and security of airline passengers before, during, and after a flight. They conduct preflight inspections of the airplane's emergency equipment, participate in preflight briefings with pilots, and assist passengers throughout the flight. Before takeoff, flight attendants demonstrate safety equipment uses and emergency procedures for passengers. They also make sure passengers follow safety requirements, including fastening their seat belts.

Flight attendants maintain the safety and security of airline passengers before, during, and after a flight.

During a flight, flight attendants take care of passenger needs, which often includes providing snacks and beverages. They must also manage any passengers displaying disruptive behavior. In the event of an emergency, flight attendants may direct evacuations, assist passengers, and perform first aid. They protect the flight deck, attend to passengers who require assistance, and operate emergency equipment.

Because of their emergency responsibilities, flight attendants must have strong decision-making skills. They also serve an important customer service role in the airline industry, which requires attentiveness, strong communication skills, and resourcefulness. Flight attendants often work long hours on a variable schedule, which often involves multiple nights away from home.

On average, flight attendants earn $56,000 a year. They must hold flight attendant certification through the FAA.

How to Become a Flight Attendant

Flight attendants need at least a high school diploma, though some employers prefer candidates with a college degree in an area such as tourism or public relations. Flight attendants must also meet specific physical and medical requirements.

Flight attendant training usually lasts 3-6 weeks and covers topics such as emergency procedures and flight regulations. In addition, flight attendants must hold FAA certification and complete training on practice flights.

Career Advancement Opportunities

After several years of flight experience, flight attendants can assume senior and managerial roles overseeing instruction and scheduling.

Essential Career Information for Flight Attendants
Median Annual Salary $56,000 per year
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 10% (Faster than average)
Number of Jobs, 2018 119,300
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $80,870
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $28,950

Source: BLS

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

Woman working at desk