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What Careers Are in the Aviation Business?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in aviation. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information.

What Are Some Careers in Aviation?

Professionals in the aviation business occupy a number of positions concerned with flight safety, including aircraft mechanics, air traffic controllers, and pilots. Aircraft mechanics perform repairs and maintenance on different flying vehicles, sometimes specializing on certain parts of aircraft. Air traffic controllers direct planes, both in the sky and on the ground, to prevent accidents and ensure safe travel. Pilots control aircraft, undergoing extensive training to learn how to operate them.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Aircraft Mechanic Air Traffic Controller Pilot
Degree Required High school diploma (or equivalent) Associate's degree Bachelor's degree
Key Responsibilities Repair airplane parts
Inspect the craft
Work on different types of aircraft
Oversee aircraft landing and takeoff
Monitor movements of aircraft
Communicate with pilots
Ensure aircraft safety
Comply with all regulations
Operate aircraft
Licensure/Certification Licensure and certification available, though not required Certification required Licensure and certification required
Training Required On-the-job training Long-term on-the-job training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 3%* 1%* 6%
Average Salary (2018) $65,230* $120,830* $169,560*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Would I Do as an Aircraft Mechanic?

As an aircraft mechanic, you may focus your work on specific parts of the airplane, like the engine or the airframe - any part of the plane except the instrument panel. You may choose to work on specific types of aircraft or specific parts of the procedure; you can focus your work on inspection of the craft or come in after inspections to perform repairs.

For aircraft mechanics, a degree in avionics or aviation technology is helpful. Many aircraft mechanics get their training at an aviation maintenance technician school certified by the FAA. These programs typically take two years to complete and include study of aviation systems including electronics, ignition and fuel systems. You learn about the different materials used to build airplanes and how these planes differ structurally; you also learn to maintain and repair landing gear and hydraulic systems in these programs.

To work on your own as an aircraft mechanic, the FAA requires that you obtain certificates for work on airframes or power plants or both - but also states that if you do not have this certificate, you can work under the supervision of another individual who does have the certificate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that airlines prefer if you have both airframe and power plant (A&P) certification (www.bls.gov).

What Role Would I Play as an Air Traffic Controller?

There are several types of air traffic controllers, and therefore assigned duties vary. For example, the flight data tower controller receives the flight plan and arranges the information before passing it on to the next controller. The clearance delivery controller, who gives the okay for clearance, then sends it to the ground controller who tells the aircraft where and when to move, except on the runway.

The BLS notes that for air traffic controllers, a 2-year or 4-year degree in engineering is a useful choice. The FAA has authorized more than 100 schools to provide training for air traffic controllers through the FAA Collegiate Training Initiative. Training for prospective air traffic controllers includes courses in aviation law, weather event procedures and aircraft control principles.

To become an air traffic controller, you must pass a pre-employment test by the FAA. If you've had experience as an air traffic controller for that agency or the Department of Defense, the pre-employment screening is not required. During this screening, you must attend 12 weeks of training to learn about agency regulations and equipment used by an air traffic controller.

What Are My Career Options if I Become a Pilot?

As a pilot, you could test new and experimental planes, ensuring that they function safely and properly; you could work for commercial airlines transporting the public from one destination to another. You could also work as a flight instructor, teaching others on the ground or in planes that have dual controls and may administer tests to students to determine whether or not they are ready to fly on their own.

If you want to be a pilot, colleges and universities offer degrees with a specialization designed to prepare you for a career as a professional pilot. Some schools offer associate degree programs, others offer bachelor's degree programs. In either case, you study how human factors can affect your work as you pilot an aircraft. You learn how the instrument panel on an airplane works and how to read it as you fly and also study strategies for safe flight. Some of these programs may require you to pay additional tuition or fees. To become a pilot, the FAA requires that you obtain a pilot's license, have 20/20 vision and, in the case of commercial airline pilots, at least 1,500 hours of flight experience.

There are several different types of pilots. The FAA offers licensure for private pilots, commercial pilots, or airline transport pilots. The agency's website notes that to obtain a private pilot's certificate, you must be at least 17 years old. The site notes that a private pilot's license allows a pilot to carry passengers for limited business use.

If you have a commercial pilot certificate, there are limits to the operations you can conduct for payment, but if you have an airline transport pilot license, you can fly as captain in some airlines. Although a helicopter pilot is considered a commercial pilot, you must have a separate license that qualifies you to fly a helicopter or rotorcraft, according to the FAA.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Flight attendants work within planes, attending to the needs of passengers and responding to emergency situations to ensure the safety of everyone on board. They will typically need at least a high school diploma to find work. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians performance develop new aircraft and spacecraft equipment and models, maintaining the equipment used. Their minimum educational requirement is an associate's degree. Electrical and electronics engineering technicians build and repair electronic equipment, such as the technology used in an airplane's cockpit that would typically be too complex and specialized for a regular mechanic to work with. They also typically require an associate's degree.