What Does a Flight Engineer Do?

Research what it takes to become a flight engineer. Learn about the training requirements, regular job duties, job outlook and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Flight Engineer?

Flight engineers are a part of the flight crew. They check systems before flight, help develop flight plans, and continue to perform checks while the aircraft is in flight. Their focus is to ensure that there are no mechanical concerns, and they monitor the engines, mechanical systems and fuel levels during the flight. They answer any question the captain has and document all checks they make. They also document any changes that are made during flight. Some flight engineers also serve as first officer.

Training Required Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved programs in flight and ground instruction
Key Responsibilities Inspect and monitor various plane systems before, during and after flights; monitor weight distribution and limits; assist the pilot and co-pilot; adjust engine controls
Licensure Professional flight engineering license from the FAA
Job Growth (2014-2024) 1% (aircraft pilots & flight engineers)*
Average Salary (2015) $136,400 (airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Duties as a Flight Engineer?

You have distinct duties before, during and after each flight. Pre-flight, you inspect the mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and fuel systems of planes according to a checklist. You also monitor the loading of cargo, fuel and passengers to make sure they are balanced and within weight limits. You will check the flight plan and consult weather forecasts. During flight, you monitor the plane's major systems and rate of fuel consumption, adjust engine controls as per the pilot's orders and inform the pilot and co-pilot about any problems you detect. After landing, you perform a post-flight inspection of the plane's systems.

Where Could I Work?

Major passenger airlines employ most flight engineers. You could also work for air cargo services, government agencies, the U.S. Air Force, regional carriers and large corporations with their own jets. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reports that a combined total of approximately 81,350 civilian pilots and flight engineers were employed in May 2015. However, the BLS also points out that improvements in technology have allowed pilots and co-pilots to perform more duties, while other duties have become automated. This has eliminated the need for an on-board flight engineer in many aircraft.

What Training Programs Are Available?

Typically, schools don't offer programs specifically for flight engineers, but you can get the training you need by completing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved programs in flight and ground instruction. In place of formal training, work experience repairing planes, working as a pilot or serving as a flight engineer in the armed forces might hep you earn flight engineering licensure from the FAA.

Air and ground training programs are widely available at private aviation schools, community colleges and 4-year institutions. A flight training program covers such topics as basic air maneuvers, instrument flying, altitude control, navigation, weather data interpretation and night flying. Ground school covers federal aviation regulations, meteorology, airport operations, flight dynamics and navigation. Courses in aircraft engines, aircraft electrical systems and airframes are also helpful for flight engineers. After completing training, you're eligible to take the FAA's written exams for reciprocating engine, turboprop and turbojet planes.

What Could I Earn?

Most flight engineers earned anywhere between $34,521 and $118,616 in total pay, according to October 2016 figures from PayScale.com. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2015 that air transportation was the industry with the most airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers, and their average salary was $137,120 (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Helicopter pilots and airline pilots are professionals who perform many of the same tasks as flight engineers. Helicopter and airline pilots may only need an associate's degree, although they must also complete flight school training and log the appropriate number of hours of flight time for their craft and their specific license. Helicopter and airline pilots perform checks prior to take off. They will ensure that the engine and instruments are working properly. These are tasks a flight engineer also performs. Helicopter and airline pilots also file flight plans and ensure the plane has enough fuel, which are duties they share in common with flight engineers. The key difference is that during flight, helicopter and airline pilots focus on navigating the plane, while flight engineers focus on monitoring the engine and mechanical systems and fuel levels.

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