Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aerospace Careers Outlook

Top jobs with a promising future

Meteorology & Atmospheric Science
Meteorology & Atmospheric Science
Meteorology and Atmospheric Science are two closely related professional fields that involve weather and climate forecasting, and both kinds of jobs are found at aerospace organizations including federal agencies and major air carriers. Like other fields, there's a space component here as well, with space weather (particularly solar storms) becoming more important as air navigation depends increasingly on GPS and other space-based technologies. A four-year science or engineering degree is usually required, and advanced degrees are highly desirable. Operational meteorologists (including U.S. Weather Service teams collocated with FAA regional traffic control centers) work round-the-clock shifts, while long-range forecasters and those involved in atmospheric research work regular office hours. According to the BLS, there are currently over 8,600 atmospheric and space scientists employed in the U.S., with salaries ranging from under $45,000 to over $132,000 annually. Over 1⁄3 are employed by the federal government, mainly at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The BLS expects the field to grow by about 15% in this decade, with most new jobs coming from the private sector.

Logistics, Planning & Safety
Logistics, Planning and Safety along with Maintenance Control are representative of jobs that mechanics, technicians and other hourly employees can work their way into with additional education and experience. Qualifications vary: A two-year community college degree will help with entry-level jobs; a four-year bachelor degree may be required for supervisory and management positions. According to the BLS, almost 7,000 logisticians, responsible for getting raw materials, parts and sub-assemblies to the right place at the right time, are employed in aerospace product and part manufacturing, at an average salary over $73,000 per year. The BLS doesn't break out what proportion of occupational safety and health specialists and technicians are employed in aerospace businesses, but salaries for those jobs range from less than $38,000 to over $94,000 per year, and employment in the field is expected to grow by 15% in this decade.

Aerospace Medicine
Physicians who work in Aerospace Medicine have some of the best-paying jobs available, averaging well over $100,000 per year. The FAA currently has over 3,900 Aviation Medical Examiners, most of who do the work on a part-time basis in addition to a regular medical practice. The job requires extensive education, including a four-year degree followed by a medical residency, on top of which the FAA has additional training requirements. A much smaller number of physicians work as full-time Flight Surgeons, typically after completing an aerospace medicine residency, either through the military or one of two civilian schools (the University of Texas, near NASA's manned space center in Houston or Wright State University near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio). Stanley R. Mohler, M.D., professor emeritus of Aerospace Medicine at Wright State, told us that physicians are employed full-time by the FAA, NASA, some of the airlines and aerospace manufacturers. Graduates of both the Wright State and University of Texas residencies have flown as NASA astronauts.

Spacecraft Controllers
While NASA's manned space program gets most attention from the press, there are a much larger number of unmanned satellites in orbit. They're monitored and (when necessary) controlled by Spacecraft (or Satellite) Controllers, who have a job that's similar to Air Traffic Management. Since spacecraft are on-orbit 24 hours a day, these jobs typically involve shift work (often on a rotating schedule). Past experience, whether military, NASA, FAA Air Traffic Control or civil nuclear power is a plus for new hires, and a college degree in engineering or physical sciences may be required for some positions.

While there are a limited number of these jobs (an expert told us "a few thousand… mainly in the private industry,") there also are a limited number of people genuinely qualified for them. Gene Milchak, director of satellite ground systems and operations at General Dynamics, told us, "Most of the operators on programs I am around are aging, and since the military buys new hardware (phones, computers, etc.) rather than fixing things, there aren't many technicians available." Wages range from $34,000 to $97,000 with experience—plus overtime for night, weekend and holiday shifts. Job titles vary: Steve Shaffer, former director of NOAA's space operations center, told us the agency advertises for "physical science technicians" rather than satellite controllers, and Milchak said General Dynamics does much the same thing.


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