As a kid in love with flying and all things related to it, I couldn't fathom the idea of getting paid for it. The notion of having an actual career in aviation seemed like a far-off dream that wasn't possible. As I got older, I discovered that I wasn't the only one thinking it would be cool to make money in some corner of aviation. Today, I know hundreds of people who make their living in aviation. Many are pilots, but I also have several friends who run fixed base operators (FBOs); a few are flight attendants; a number are excellent aircraft mechanics; a cousin who is an air traffic controller; an aviation attorney or two and even an aviation medical examiner. I can't think of one who doesn't love his or her job. Aviation is a special place.
Today, amid "sequestration" and an administration that seems to have targeted general aviation for sweeping cuts, aviation career choices are changing, but they're also growing in number and variety. While some jobs—like military fighter pilots—are decreasing in availability, others—like UAV pilots and flight attendants—are booming. In terms of sheer numbers, it would be hard to pick a better time to consider a career in aviation.
The growth of aviation as a long-term career is international in scope. In February of this year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) convened in Geneva to focus on general aviation. The meeting—which included some 150 delegates from government, the aviation industry, and labor unions—concluded with a call for a "sustainable civil aviation industry" as a "common goal for governments, employers and workers."
"The aviation industry has gone through a series of crises and changes which have seriously impacted its ability to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, something which is crucial to the safety of passengers and workers alike," said Manfred Merz, executive vice president of the Airline Personnel Directors' Council (APDC). He and the ILO delegates determined that the shortage of people seeking careers in aviation is a crisis that will get worse as aviation continues to grow. "Evolving market demand will require continuous active policies and a level playing field that will motivate workers and especially young people, to join the various sectors that compose the industry," he concluded.
The different types of aviation careers are surprising in number. Though the first word that comes to mind when thinking of aviation is "pilot," the fact is that non-flying careers are flourishing, and many of them pay impressive salaries. Some careers—like flight attendants— incorporate both flying and non-flying duties, and have become lucrative, long-term job choices for many, and their popularity is soaring.
Just this year, Delta Airlines was flooded with 50,000 job applications for 300 flight attendant openings it advertised. Delta CEO Richard Anderson said that job applications arrived at a rate of two per minute! The same thing happened in February at US Airways, which received 16,500 job applications for 450 flight attendant openings. The lure of free travel, exotic destinations, a dynamic work environment, and meeting new people every day, all while earning a median salary in the $37,000 range, is enticing to many.
UAVs for civilian use are anticipated to be relatively small, such as this DROID UAV used by NASA to test anti-collision systems.
But not everyone is cut out for the job, and specialized skills can help a candidate stand out. According to Delta, roughly one-third of the flight attendants they're hiring will work in cities overseas. The airline is looking for language expertise in Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and Hindi. Most domestic airlines require their flight attendants to relocate to their hub city. Attendants work a rotating schedule with variable hours that include holidays and weekends, and they must have the stamina required to work up to 14 hours per day with frequent changes in weather conditions.
The most obvious aviation career is that of airline pilot. Boeing's well-respected Long-Term Market Outlook projects a need for more than 460,000 airline pilots between now and 2031. In the U.S. alone, there will be a need for 8,000 pilots per year. The rift between the number of pilots currently "in the system" (both certificated and in training), and those that will be needed has experts more than worried. According to Boeing, a shortage has already appeared in many regions of the world. Asia, in particular, is experiencing delays and operational interruptions due to pilot scheduling constraints.
Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA.aero) is a company dedicated to flight crew employment. They keep a close watch on pilot staffing trends around the world. Their data shows that many regional airlines—after not hiring pilots in many years—have stepped up their interviewing process and are attending aviation job fairs for the first time in recent memory. ExpressJet says they plan to hire 600 pilots in 2013, while Piedmont and Republic Airlines will together hire nearly 1,000 pilots this year.
American Eagle Airlines has partnered with US Aviation Academy to develop a Pipeline Instructor Program, a career path from Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) to Regional Airline Pilot. The new program gives pilots a secured position at American Eagle Airlines while building time towards the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate minimum flight-time requirements. The pilots will be hired by American Eagle and work as instructors at the flight school until reaching ATP minimums. "Our pipeline instructor program is the first coordinated initiative of its kind to address the worldwide pilot shortage, and we are excited to be on the front lines with American Eagle," said Mike Sykes, CEO of US Aviation Academy.
Although yearly starting salaries for regional first officers hover in the $20,000 range, senior captains for major carriers can easily earn $200,000 and more.
Though only used by the military today, by 2015, controls rooms such as this will monitor thousands of UAVs at once.
For the first time in our history, manned flight could start to take a back seat to unmanned flight. The explosion of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or, "drones,") has been well publicized and has caused both controversy and a huge boom in educational programs designed to train land-locked pilots. The FAA is launching six UAV test sites in preparation for widespread use of the vehicles that are collectively known as "unmanned aerial systems." Fifty applicants from 37 states have applied to host a test site, mostly colleges. "Drones" have become aviation's hottest thing.
Why does the FAA want to promote use of UAVs? They know that private industry is going to take to them in droves. The characteristics of these aircraft, like 20-hour endurance and—for some—miniscule size, can't be matched with manned aircraft. These and many other features will represent huge cost savings for law enforcement agencies, agricultural companies, municipalities and security firms. According to a February 2013 Government Accountability Office report (GAO-13-346T), the UAS market in the United States alone could be potentially worth $89 billion over the next decade.
Between now and 2031, Boeing projects a need for more than 460,000 airline pilots around the world. Asia is already experiencing operational interruptions to airlines due to pilot scheduling constraints.
While most jobs flying UAVs are military related today, higher-education institutions across the country expect that to change by 2015, when the Federal Aviation Administration will release regulations pertaining to unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace. Once those regulations are in place, the FAA predicts that 10,000 commercial drones will be operating in the U.S. within five years. The FAA has committed to integrating UAVs into the National Airspace System by 2018 and has publicly stated it wants colleges and universities to become the new test sites for the growing industry of unmanned flight.
As a result of all this, schools are scrambling to implement UAV programs. As of this writing, we know of only four colleges that offer degree programs in unmanned aerial systems: Utah Valley University, Kansas State University, University of North Dakota and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Of course, many more colleges—even some community colleges—offer UAV pilot training programs. As of February 2013, 328 public institutions—including 14 universities and colleges—have permits from the FAA to fly unmanned aircraft. That number grows each month.
Utah Valley University (UVU) is leading an alliance of universities and private companies that are involved in research and development of remotely piloted vehicles (one component of UAVs). UVU is determined to become one of the six test facilities chosen by the FAA. Wayne Dornan, Ph.D., and dean of UVU's College of Aviation and Public Services said, "This is a virtual tsunami about to happen, the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace is one of the most important things to happen in aviation since the Wright brothers. That's how critical this is because this is going to change how we think about aviation."
Because the UAV area is so new (and mostly military), even the FAA hasn't published clear requirements or program guidelines for UAV pilots. Today, students have to first earn a commercial pilot certificate, then add on instrument and multi-engine ratings. The "classroom" portion includes studying about operating cameras and systems, communications, and all the technology that goes with the aircraft. At the University of North Dakota, students complete about 70 hours in a flight simulator modeled after Boeing's Scan Eagle, a military UAV. At Embry-Riddle, the UAV bachelor's degree program also includes 13 credits of engineering. Students there train on a simulator that resembles the military Predator drone.
For all this, students are rewarded with lucrative salaries. In today's environment, most students go on to work for military contractors and earn anywhere from $70,000 to $170,000 per year, frequently even more. Like airline jobs, experience and seniority affect salary. Analysts who process images and data captured by the vehicle's sensors can earn $100,000 per year to start. Once more private companies are flying UAVs, it's anybody's guess where salaries will go, but the general consensus is up.
Aerospace Technicians, Mechanics And Engineers
One highlight of Boeing's Market Outlook was its projection of needing 601,000 aircraft technicians in the coming decades. Although aircraft reliability continues to improve, systems become more complex and require specialized skills for designing and troubleshooting them.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 119,160 people are currently employed as aircraft mechanics and technicians in the U.S. Texas and California employ the largest number of these workers, with Florida offering the highest wages. Technicians and mechanics earn annual wages ranging from the mid-$30,000s to about $80,000. Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians must be certified by the FAA. Most mechanics learn their trade at an FAA-approved Aviation Maintenance Technician School. One advantage of a career like this is that it doesn't require a four-year college degree, but still provides great wages and benefits for skilled applicants.
With technology increasing in importance, technicians and engineers who specialize in avionics and high-tech systems will be in high demand. The federal Labor Department expects demand for aerospace engineers and specialists who specialize in computer systems to rise 46% by 2020. With aerospace engineers earning a median salary of $105,000/year and ranging into $175,000, the extra education required is a valid trade-off for many.
Aviation includes many more jobs than can be covered in a short magazine article. Careers like flight dispatcher, meteorologist, cargo and baggage handler, ticket agent, airport manager, test pilot, astronaut, and a great number of others provide viable, long-term employment. Demand for these positions changes with the economy and demand for air travel, but anybody with a dream to work near aircraft can realize that dream.
FlightSafety Offers Free Candidate Training
|If you think everything in aviation is too expensive, how about a free CFI, CFII and MEI rating? FlightSafety Academy (the regional airline training arm of FlightSafety International) is well aware of the coming pilot shortage, and is being proactive in doing something about it through a rare and unique offer.
One of the problems facing the airline industry is how prospective first officers will bridge the gap between the flying time they have and the FAA-proposed minimums to qualify for the Air Transport Rating (ATP) necessary for First Officer positions. FlightSafety Academy recognizes this potential problem and has made it possible for qualified pilots to build that time through their innovative "Instructor Candidate Opportunity."
FlightSafety Academy is offering without charge the Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), Certified Flight Instructor-Instrument (CFII) and Multi Engine Instructor (MEI) ratings to a select group of qualified individuals in exchange for a two-year commitment as a paid Instructor Pilot with FlightSafety Academy. Pilots who hold a Commercial License, Single and Multi Engine Land with Instrument privileges are encouraged to apply for this unique opportunity. Qualified applicants have the ability to earn their full flight instructor ratings courtesy of FlightSafety Academy.
Candidates will be invited to participate in an all-day interview process involving group, individual and written evaluations. Once selected, candidates will receive periodic evaluations to determine their continued eligibility. The resulting commitment will be for 24 calendar months of flight instruction once successfully completing FlightSafety Academy's standardization curriculum.
To apply for this elite 20-week-plus program, qualified candidates should go online to www.flightsafetyacademy.com and click on the "Employment" tab, then "Apply Online Now" and "Instructor Candidate-Requisition #11369." Candidates will also need to submit a resume. For more information, contact Angela Brandt at [email protected]
|AVIATION CAREER LISTING
In each corner of aviation—from airlines to manufacturing—there's a specialized job that can be explored. For some people aviation is a calling, and for many it doesn't involve being a pilot. For them, supporting the aircraft or operation is just as important as flying it. Here's just a partial listing of jobs available in the aviation field.
|Aeronautical Engineer||$35,000 - $165,000/year||Engineering degree in field|
|Aircraft Assembler and Installer||$16 - $32/hour||High-school diploma|
|Air Freight/Cargo Agent||$12 - $20/hour||High-school diploma, two-year college degree preferred, shipping experience|
|Airframe or Powerplant Mechanic||$16 - $30/hour
|High-school diploma, technical training; A & P license|
|Airport Manager||$15 - $45/hour||College degree in airport management or business administration|
|Air Traffic Controller||$18 - $65/hour||FAA training, two-year college degree preferred|
|Astronaut||$24,000 - $75,000/year||Engineering, physical science, physics, or similar, advanced degree and aviation medical certificate|
|Aviation Attorney||$70,000 - $130,000/year||Four-year degree + law degree|
|Aviation Medical Examiner||$65,000 - $175,000/year||Four-year degree + medical degree|
|Avionics Specialist||$12 - $35/hour||High-school diploma, two-year college degree preferred, plus technical training|
|Baggage Handler||$12 - $18/hour||High-school diploma|
|Corporate Pilot||$50,000 - $200,000/year||Most require a four-year degree, extensive flight experience|
|Fire and Crash Rescue||$12 - $35/hour||Two-year college degree preferred, plus special training|
|Flight Attendant||$12 - $26/hour||High-school diploma, two-year college degree preferred, plus special training|
|Flight Dispatcher||$15 - $35/hour||Dispatcher's license, two-year college degree|
|Gate Attendant||$12 - $25/hour||High-school diploma, two-year college degree preferred|
|Major Airline Pilot||$25,000 - $250,000/year||Four-year degree preferred, specialized training, specific ratings and certificates|
|Meteorologist||$20 - $35/hour||Four-year meteorology degree|
|NTSB Accident Investigator||$16 - $45/hour||College degree, aviation industry experience|
|Reservation Sales Agent||$9 - $22/hour||High -school diploma, two-year college degree preferred|
|Sky Cap||$7 - $12/hour, plus tips||High-school diploma|
|Test Pilot||$35,000 - $200,000/year||Four-year degree, military experience or specialized test pilot school, engineering background|