What Is the Starting Salary in the Aviation Field?

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in the field of aviation. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Would I Do in a Job In the Aviation Field?

The aviation field includes a number of job titles, such as airline or commercial pilot, air traffic controller or flight attendant. Airline pilots operate scheduled flights that transport passengers from one airport to another, while commercial pilots fly planes for rescue efforts, firefighting, photography and other purposes. Air traffic controllers work on the ground at airports to coordinate plane takeoffs, landings, baggage transportation and personnel movements. Flight attendants work on commercial flights to ensure passenger safety and comfort over the course of a flight.

These positions have differing education requirements. Learn more about these potential careers in the chart below.

Airline or Commercial PilotAir Traffic ControllerFlight Attendant
Degree RequiredA high school diploma for commercial pilots and a bachelor's degree for airline pilots Associate's degree High school diploma
Licensure or Certification Required All paid pilots need a commercial pilot's license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Airline pilots also need an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate An Air Traffic Control Tower Certificate is necessary to become an air traffic controller Flight attendants must also be certified by the FAA
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% for airline and commercial pilots* -9% for air traffic controllers* 2% for flight attendants*
Median Salary (2015) $117,290 for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers* $122,950 for air traffic controllers* $44,860 for flight attendants*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Careers Could I Pursue in the Field of Aviation?

The field of aviation offers careers in which you can work either in the air or on the ground. Positions within the field of aviation include mechanics, air traffic controllers, flight attendants and pilots. Mechanics are categorized as airframe or powerplant mechanics, but you also could be an airframe and powerplant mechanic. Your duties include making repairs and conducting routine maintenance to ensure airplanes are operating safely.

You may also work as an air traffic controller, directing air traffic and making sure that plane arrivals and departures flow smoothly. You'd work in a control tower, using communication systems to maintain contact with pilots and using the National Airspace System to keep air traffic accident-free. If you want a position working in the air, a career as a flight attendant allows you to be front and center, offering customer service to passengers on the plane. You're the person in direct contact with passengers, making certain they're comfortable, happy and satisfied before, during and after each flight.

If you prefer more responsibility, a career as a commercial or passenger airline pilot might suit you. As an airline pilot, you fly the plane, manage the crew and ensure the safety of all passengers and crew aboard the plane. Some pilots operate cargo, dust cropping, traffic, rescue or law enforcement aircraft.

What Can I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, as of May 2015, the median salary for aircraft mechanics and service technicians was $58,370 (www.bls.gov). The 10th percentile had an annual wage of $34,770 and the 90th percentile had an annual wage of $89,050. According to the BLS, air traffic controllers in the 10th percentile earned an annual salary of $66,780, the 50th percentile earned $122,950 and the 90th percentile earned $172,590 as of May 2015.

Earnings for flight attendants, according to the BLS in May 2015, were an annual wage of $25,930 for the 10th percentile, $44,860 for the 50th percentile and $72,090 for the 90th percentile. The median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers, as of May 2015, was $117,290, as reported by the BLS. The 10th percentile earned $60,770 and the 75th percentile earned $163,130.

How Can I Increase My Earnings?

Employers typically give pay raises based upon your experience and time on the job, but you can also increase your earnings through promotions. You might consider attending the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Academy to learn new skills, gain knowledge and increase your chances for advancement (www.faa.gov).

If you're working as a mechanic, you may earn a promotion through testing. You may also become a supervisor or an inspector for the FAA. Your advancement options as an air traffic controller include promotion into a position as a radar controller or supervisor. There are also opportunities to work in administration positions at the FAA.

As a flight attendant, you start in a reserve position where you aren't always guaranteed when or if you will fly. As you gain seniority, you become eligible for regular assignments. You may graduate into a supervisor or manager position and then onto higher administrative positions within the airline. You might consider becoming a teacher or recruiter for new flight attendants.

Pilot advancement is often limited to other pilot positions. Options for advancement include flight instructor, charter plane pilot, air taxi pilot and corporate plane pilot. If you're flying commercial planes, advancement may lead to more desirable schedules.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of working as an aircraft mechanic, you could also consider becoming an automotive mechanic. In this job, instead of working on airplanes, you would maintain and repair motor vehicles like cars, trucks and motorcycles. You would need to complete a postsecondary training program for this job. Instead of becoming a flight attendant, you could consider another customer service job, such as a waiter or waitress. In this position, you would serve customers in dining establishments like restaurants. No formal education is required for one of these positions.

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