Transportation Industry: Career and Salary Facts

Careers in the transportation industry include working with trains, planes, boats and automobiles. Discover the job requirements and potential salaries for careers in transportation. Schools offering Logistics & Transportation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Some Career Options in Transportation?

Transportation is a broad field that incorporates four major industries. The aviation industry covers all forms of air transport, including both commercial air transportation and airline travel. The motor vehicle industry is much broader, incorporating transportation careers that involve both short trips and long-distance travel. The transportation rail system industry covers all jobs related to passenger and cargo trains. The fourth industry is water transportation; jobs are available on both passenger and cargo ships. Below, you will find more specific information about careers in these industries.

Aviation Careers

In the field of aviation, one option is to take a position as an air traffic controller. In this career, you manage air traffic by using equipment that monitors and tracks airplanes. You may also use radio equipment to maintain contact with pilots. Your main duty is to keep the planes safe by properly directing pilots during takeoff, in flight and when landing.

You could also work as a pilot, which may involve flying commercial, private, cargo, law enforcement or crop dusting planes. You will use controls, monitors and other equipment to safely operate the plane. You may communicate with staff, passengers and air traffic controllers before, during and after a flight to give or get instructions, communicate problems or share information about your flight or plane. If you work as a flight attendant, your main job is to make passengers feel safe and comfortable during a flight. You may greet passengers, assist with carry-on luggage storage, provide beverages and food, answer questions and direct passengers on safety procedures.

Take a look at the following table for more information about these careers:

Air Traffic Controller Pilot Flight Attendant
Degree Required Bachelor's degree, work experience, or associate's degree and work experience High school diploma (for commercial pilot), bachelor's degree (for airline pilot) High school diploma
Educational Field of Study Aviation Aviation N/A
Key Responsibilities Coordinate takeoffs and landings; direct ground traffic Operate controls; navigate the aircraft; communicate with air traffic control Demonstrate safety procedures; serve food and beverages; ensure passenger safety during emergencies
Licensure Requirements Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate Commercial Pilot License or Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification FAA Certification
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -9% 5% 2%
Median Salary (2015)* $122,950 $102,520 $44,860

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Aviation Career Requirements

In any aviation career, you must meet regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which manages air transportation ( The training, education and licensing for aviation careers are handled through the FAA and may include obtaining a college degree, earning a license or passing certification tests.

Aviation Earnings and Outlook

The median annual salary for air traffic controllers in 2015 was $122,950. The projected job growth in this occupation as reported by the BLS for the period of 2014-2024 was -9%, a decline. Pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers reportedly earned a median annual salary of $117,290 in 2015. According to the BLS, the job growth for pilots and flight engineers was projected to increase by 5% from 2014-2024. According to the BLS, flight attendants earned a median annual salary of $44,860 in May of 2015, with an expected job growth for 2014-2024 of two percent.

Motor Vehicle Careers

There are both short- and long-distance travel job options available in the motor vehicle transportation industry. Bus driving occupations may include driving a school, transit or intercity bus. As a bus driver, you pick up passengers from bus stops and take them to their destinations. Buses usually run on a set schedule with set stops. You are responsible for driving safely, obeying all road rules and keeping passengers safe.

As a taxi driver, you will generally work in a city or town, driving passengers from one location to another. You pick up and drop off passengers at locations of their choice. You are responsible for the safety of the passengers in your cab, and also for knowing the city or town well enough to take passengers anywhere they may want to go. Chauffeur jobs involve driving a private vehicle, usually a limousine, and transporting clients to and from their chosen locations. You may work strictly as a driver for one client or you may work for a company and be hired out each day to different clients. It is your job to know how to get to and from client locations, maneuver through cities and get clients where they need to go at the correct times.

Alternatively, you may choose to work as a truck driver, driving a large truck and hauling cargo. Cargo can include a variety of items, including refrigerated goods or hazardous materials. The routes you travel may be within a small area or take you across the country. You may drive a company truck or your own truck.

The following table offers more information about these career options:

Bus Driver Taxi Driver Chauffeur Heavy Truck Driver
Degree Required High school diploma None None Professional training program
Key Responsibilities Follow bus routes; pick up and drop off passengers; collect passenger fares Pick up passengers; navigate to passenger-requested locations; collect fares based on meter; maintain vehicle Provide private driving service; adhere to prearranged trip schedule; maintain vehicle Drive for long distances; communicate with dispatchers; truck maintenance
Licensure Requirements Commercial Driver's License Regular driver's license; some states and municipalities require taxi license Regular driver's license; CDL required if transporting 16 or more passengers Commercial Driver's License
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for transit and inner city bus drivers) 13% (for all taxi drivers and chauffeurs) 13% (for all taxi drivers and chauffeurs) 5%
Median Salary (2015)* $38,290 (for transit and inner city bus drivers) $23,510 (for all taxi drivers and chauffeurs) $23,510 (for all taxi drivers and chauffeurs) $40,260

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Motor Vehicle Career Requirements

In a motor vehicle career, you are typically required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL). You may be required to earn special endorsements on your license to drive some vehicles or carry some types of cargo. Licensing requirements are often set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ( In some careers, you may have to pass a background check and routine drug tests. It is common for all motor vehicle careers to require a clean driving record. There are training programs available to help you learn how to drive some vehicles, such as buses or heavy trucks.

Motor Vehicle Earnings and Outlook

The BLS forecast a 13% job growth for chauffeurs and taxi drivers from 2014-2024. The median salary in 2015 for these careers was $23,510. Bus drivers for transit and intercity routes earned a median salary of $38,290. The expected job growth for 2014-2024 was six percent, as reported by the BLS. School bus drivers earned $29,490 and had an expected job growth of six percent from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. The BLS reported a job growth of five percent for heavy truck drivers from 2014-2024. The median wages in 2015 for tractor-trailer and heavy truck drivers was $40,260.

Rail Transportation Careers

One career choice in rail transportation is a conductor. Work as a conductor includes managing train activity, keeping passengers safe, arranging train schedules, assisting passengers, coordinating staff duties and ensuring terminals are ready for train arrivals and departures. You may maintain passenger and cargo records and conduct checks of cargo. As a subway or streetcar operator, you work in a city, taking passengers to and from scheduled stops. It is your job to follow train signals, ensure passenger safety, make announcements about stops and make sure the train is operating safely.

If you work as a train engineer, you are responsible for operating the train to safely transport cargo or passengers. It is also your job to monitor the controls of the train to ensure proper operating condition. Rail yard jobs include brake operator, switch operator and yardmaster. As a brake operator, your job is to operate switches and to connect rail cars. Switch operators manage switches and monitor them to ensure they are working properly. As a yardmaster, you oversee the rail yard crew, coordinate traffic within the rail yard and keep activities moving smoothly and safely.

Here are some quick facts about jobs in the rain transportation industry:

Conductor/Yardmaster Subway/Streetcar Operator Locomotive Engineer Railroad Brake, Switch and Signal Operators
Degree Required High school diploma High school diploma High school diploma High school diploma
Key Responsibilities Coordinate train crew activities; oversee loading and unloading; ensure passenger safety during travel (conductors only) Operate controls for door opening and closing; control speed and stoppage time; collect fares Operate freight or passenger trains; monitor speed and other engine indicators; communicate with dispatchers Couple and uncouple rail cars (brake operators); control rail yard switches (switch operators); install and maintain track signals (signal operators)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* -2% 5-8% -2% -2%
Median Salary (2015)* $55,930 $62,360 $56,240 $54,020

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Rail Transportation Career Requirements

Formal training is usually required for rail transportation careers. It is typical for employers to offer training programs to new employees. These programs usually include hands-on and classroom training. You may also find programs at colleges offering training in railroad operations. You will likely start out in an entry-level position in the rail yard and work your way up to higher positions, such as conductor or engineer. If you work as an engineer, you must have an engineer's license, which requires meeting training requirements and passing knowledge and medical tests.

Rail Transportation Earnings and Outlook

For all rail transportation careers, the BLS reported an anticipated job decline of three percent for 2014-2024. Locomotive engineers earned a median salary of $56,240 in 2015, according to the BLS. Conductors and yardmasters earned $55,930, while brake, signal and switch operators earned a median annual salary of $54,020.

Water Transportation Careers

There are a variety of positions available within the water transportation industry. As a captain, you would operate the ship and monitor all activity on-board. You may ensure passengers or cargo are safe as you travel, keep an activity log, supervise the crew and maintain the proper operation of all equipment. You may work as a mate, watching over the deck. You may operate the ship if the captain is unable to. As a mate, you serve as the captain's assistant, helping him or her with tasks, such as managing the crew and helping to navigate around obstacles or dangers in the water. As a ship pilot, you operate the ship while in a harbor or in other local waterways with which the captain may not be familiar. Once in open waters, your duties may be similar to a mate's duties. If you work as an engineer, it is your job to maintain the ship, ensure it is operating properly and keeping it in working order throughout the course of the trip. You may have to make repairs or do routine maintenance while sailing.

Captain Mate Ship Pilot Ship Engineer
Education/Certification Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), U.S. Coast Guard Certification; bachelor's degree from merchant marine academy often preferred Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), U.S. Coast Guard Certification; bachelor's degree from merchant marine academy often preferred Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), U.S. Coast Guard Certification; bachelor's degree from merchant marine academy often preferred Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), U.S. Coast Guard Certification; bachelor's degree from merchant marine academy often preferred
Licensure Licensure for open ocean or local waterway may be required Licensure for open ocean or local waterway may be required Licensure for open ocean or local waterway may be required Licensure for open ocean or local waterway may be required
Key Responsibilities Operate ship controls; supervise crew; keep ship logs Oversee deck crew activities; assist with ship control; monitor loading and unloading Guide ships in confined waterways; follow instructions from shore dispatchers Operate ships propulsion system; perform regular maintenance checks; manage refueling needs
Job Growth (2014-2024)* $76,780 (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) $76,780 (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) $76,780 (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) $72,870
Median Salary (2015)* 10% (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) 10% (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) 10% (for all captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) 7%

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Water Transportation Career Requirements

Requirements for water transportation careers are managed by the U.S. Coast Guard ( You may have to earn credentials, attend formal classroom training and pass an examination. In some positions, such as a ship pilot, you may have to take an apprenticeship.

Water Transportation Earnings and Outlook

For the period of 2014-2024, the BLS reported a projected a faster-than-average 9% job growth for careers in water transportation. The reported median annual salary for ship pilots, mates, and captains was $76,780 in 2015. Ship engineers earned a median annual salary of $72,870.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working directly in the transportation industry, you could get a job in a closely related field. As an alternative to a career in aviation, you could get a job in a different travel-related field. For example, as a lodging manager, you would coordinate all operations in a hotel or motel. Your duties would include supervising employees, monitoring budgetary spending and making sure that travelers enjoy their stay. The minimum educational requirement for this job is a high school diploma.

Rather than working as truck driver, you might get a job as a logistician. Instead of directly transporting goods you would be in charge of managing the overall supply chain for an organization, from acquisition to delivery. Logisticians usually need to have a bachelor's degree.

Instead of getting a job in the railroad or cargo shipping transportation, you could consider getting a job operating material-moving machinery. For instance, crane operators might work at major ports, using cranes to load and unload cargo from ships. Dredge operators use machines to excavate waterways in order to ensure that they remain navigable for ships. To get either of these jobs, you need to have at least a high school diploma.

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