Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nonflying Aerospace Careers

10 dynamic career fields worth considering

6 METEOROLOGY & ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE: Meteorologists and atmospheric scientists forecast the weather—a matter of grave concern to pilots of all air and space vehicles. Minimum qualifications include a four-year science or engineering degree, but an advanced degree is highly desirable. Indeed, the BLS reports, “Those with graduate degrees should enjoy better prospects than those with only a bachelor’s degree.” 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 during regular office hours. According to the BLS, there are about 9,400 meteorologists and atmospheric scientists employed in the U.S., with salaries ranging from $38,990 to over $127,100; about a third of them are employed by the federal government (mainly the National Weather Service). The field is growing, largely in the private sector, though the BLS warns that “many customers for private weather services are in industries sensitive to fluctuations in the economy,” which likely means that hiring for those jobs will depend on broader economic recovery.

7 SAFETY, LOGISTICS & PLANNING: Positions in these white-collar support positions are found in large organizations such as aerospace manufacturers and airlines. A two-year community-college degree will help qualify a candidate for entry-level jobs; a four-year bachelor’s degree may be required for supervisory and management positions. According to the BLS, almost 6,000 logisticians (responsible for getting raw materials, parts and subassemblies to the right place at the right time) are employed in aerospace products and parts manufacturing, at an average salary of $68,840 yearly. The BLS doesn’t denote what proportion of occupational safety and health specialists and technicians are employed in aerospace businesses, but these jobs pay $26,540 to $93,620 per year. Embry-Riddle’s George DeWees told us that these fields, along with maintenance control, are representative of jobs that mechanics, technicians and other hourly workers can work their way into with additional education and experience.

8 AEROSPACE MEDICINE: High-paying jobs exist for aviation medical examiners (AMEs), flight surgeons and their support personnel. AMEs and flight surgeons are physicians whose earnings, according to the BLS, “are among the highest of any occupation,” averaging $186,044 per year for those in primary-care specialties (from which most AMEs and flight surgeons are drawn). Stanley R. Mohler, M.D., professor emeritus of aerospace medicine at Wright State University, estimates that around 8,000 doctors are employed in aerospace medicine on a full- or part-time basis, supported by a roughly equal number of nurses, physicians assistants and medical assistants, whose earnings range from $20,600 to $69,850. These jobs require extensive education: eight or more years for physicians. Wright State’s aerospace medicine program adds another two years to that for a master’s in aerospace medicine (a similar program is available at the University of Texas). Dr. Mohler told us that physicians are employed full-time by the FAA, NASA, some of the airlines and aerospace manufacturers. Some of his colleagues fly, a few at quite high altitudes—he’s especially proud of Michael Barret, M.D., a Wright State grad who spent six months in orbit on the International Space Station.

9 SPACE OPERATIONS: This field is somewhat akin to air traffic control, though usually without the drama: Once a satellite is in orbit, it takes a major effort to bring it down. Professor David Whalen, chair of UND’s space studies program (and a veteran satellite controller and space operations manager for NASA and the Comsat Corporation), told us entry-level jobs are available in the field for spacecraft (or satellite) controllers. Since satellites are in orbit day and night, this involves shift work (often on a rotating schedule). A college degree may not be required (though some organizations require one). Past experience from the military, NASA, ATC or civil nuclear power helps. With additional education, controllers can move up to positions as mission analysts (involved anytime a change is expected or observed in a spacecraft orbit) or satellite engineers (who troubleshoot problems). Whalen estimates that several thousand people are employed in these jobs with pay in the $50,000 to $75,000 range. He notes that entry-level jobs can be pretty boring: “Most of the time you spend hours at a console while nothing happens.” But the higher-end jobs can be quite interesting.


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