Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nonflying Aerospace Careers

10 dynamic career fields worth considering

In past years, we’ve called this section “Nonflying Aviation Careers,” recognizing that not everyone interested in aviation wants to be a pilot. This year, we’ve broadened our horizons: Many nonflying jobs apply equally to both aviation and space; in some cases, the job titles have even changed to recognize this. Covering a broader range of career fields makes sense given the recession. Business and general aviation have been particularly hard hit. Business jet demand fell by more than a third in 2009, driven in part by negative publicity about corporate jet use in the recession. Cessna, Piper, Mooney, Hawker Beechcraft and Gulfstream all had layoffs in the last 12 months (though, at this writing, there’s some good news: Cessna has just called some of its laid-off employees back to work). Even Boeing and Airbus were affected, deferring orders as airlines adjusted to fewer passengers.

But there are bright spots: Many jobs are funded, directly or indirectly, by the federal government, which has put billions of dollars into stimulus funding. A new field is emerging as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) move beyond military and intelligence to a broader range of applications. In the long run, as the economy recovers, many firms that have postponed hiring will have more positions to fill.

One common thread noted in conducting research for this article: The more education and experience you have, the better your chances of being hired. Today, even blue-collar jobs require basic computer skills, and as many people compete for a limited number of professional jobs, firms tend to pick those who stand out from the crowd with an advanced degree, unusual experience or both.

1 AEROSPACE MANUFACTURING & MAINTENANCE: Every vehicle that flies, manned or unmanned, in the air or space, is built somewhere, and in most cases (satellites are a notable exception), these vehicles require periodic maintenance. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 160,000 people are employed in front-line, blue-collar aerospace jobs: machinists, assemblers, inspectors, machine-tool operators, mechanics and service technicians. Unlike most of the careers discussed here, these jobs don’t require a college degree—but don’t expect to walk in without training and get hired. According to the BLS, a semester or more of community-college training is required for most of these jobs. George DeWees of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University told us that the formerly separate aircraft and powerplant (A&P) mechanic and avionics technician career fields now are merging, with firms preferring technicians who are comfortable working on any part of an aircraft: “Newer aircraft have wires going to everything, so it’s really one job.” These jobs pay by the hour and may involve shift work outside of typical business hours. DeWees warned that in today’s economy, “It can take six months to a year to find a job.”


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