Designing air and space vehicles and related equipment is the job of aerospace engineers. Paul Kostek, a distinguished lecturer for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, sees considerable opportunity in this field: “There are some clouds with the discussion of defense cuts, but demand is picking up at Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier and their suppliers. In my work, I’m seeing more and more consulting opportunities and more word from people looking to hire.”
Getting hired requires at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or one of the physical sciences. Most engineers work a regular 40-hour week, but some work rotating shifts or odd hours when required. Wages range from around $70,000 to better than $150,000, depending mainly on experience, though advanced degrees can help.
Airport/aviation managers fill a wide variety of roles focused on the business side of aviation, according to University of North Dakota Professor Kim Kenville, who told us: “We’re seeing airports open up positions and create new departments because of increased traffic. Airports are shouldering more work on ground service as airlines outsource, creating a new line of business for FBOs. That makes training and customer service more of an airport responsibility, rather than being handled by airline head offices.”
Management jobs usually require a four-year degree, with earnings ranging from $48,000 to over $200,000 with experience. Kenville told us the best route into one of these jobs is often an internship, typically paying slightly more than minimum wage but, like many internships, offering the opportunity to go places within the company.
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 9,800 atmospheric and space scientists employed in the U.S., with salaries ranging from under $52,000 to over $140,000 annually. About one-third are employed by the federal government, mainly at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The BLS expects the field to grow by about 12 percent in this decade, with most new jobs coming from the private sector.
Logistics, Planning & Safety
Aviation is all about doing things, complicated things, and people need to come up with ways to do all of those things and do them safely. 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’s degree may be required for supervisory and management positions. According to the BLS, almost 9,800 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 of over $85,700 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 $42,000 to over $104,000 per year, and employment in the field is expected to grow by 8 percent in this decade.
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 2,500 aviation medical examiners, and many of them do the work on a part-time basis in addition to a regular medical practice. The job requires extensive education, and all the costs included in that undertaking, 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.
While NASA’s manned space program gets the 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 are also a limited number of people genuinely qualified for them. Wages range from $40,000 to $109,000 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.