Depending on the level of education achieved, there are a number of career options in the field of aeronautical studies. Some of the most common ones, detailed below, include aircraft maintenance technicians, pilots and aeronautical engineers. Salaries and job outlooks vary, depending upon the career.
Aeronautical studies cover the science of flight. Degree programs in the field range from an associate's degree to a Ph.D. Each program level corresponds to unique career opportunities. Those with degrees in aeronautical studies include engineers who design airplanes and other flying craft, the pilots who fly them and the technicians who keep them flight-worthy. Formal education is often required, and pilots must log in time consuming flying hours before employment.
|Career||Aircraft Maintenance Technician||Pilot||Aeronautical Engineer|
|Education Requirements||Associate's||At least 2 years; bachelor's preferred||Bachelor's; graduate|
|Job Growth (2014-2024)*||1%||7%||-2%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$58,370||$117,290||$107,830|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
An education in aeronautics may qualify school graduates for a variety of job roles according to the level of study completed. Aircraft technicians may hold a 2-year degree and earn certification to work in the field, whereas pilots can easily find employment with a baccalaureate degree. Aeronautical engineers and other aircraft researchers or specialists typically hold a graduate-level degree.
Aircraft Maintenance Technicians
Aircraft maintenance technicians (also known as AMTs or A&P mechanics) repair and maintain all types of flying vehicles. They work for airlines, aircraft manufacturers, airport fixed base operators (FBOs) and the federal government.
All AMTs must pass the certification exam administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (www.faa.gov). Certificate programs are typically limited to one aspect of aircraft maintenance, such as airframe technology or powerplant technology, and may not be sufficient preparation for the FAA exam. An Associate of Applied Science curriculum, on the other hand, covers all areas of aircraft maintenance technology--including aviation science, airframe inspection and fuel systems--and prepares students for certification.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a job growth of 1% for aircraft maintenance technicians from 2014-2024. Most new job openings will be due to the retirement of technicians or movement into related fields by current AMTs. An expected decrease in the number of maintenance and repair trade students enrolling in technical schools may also improve job prospects for future aircraft maintenance technicians (www.bls.gov).
Pilots are highly trained professionals who fly all types of aircraft, from single-engine airplanes to jumbo jets. Most work for commercial airlines, transporting passengers or cargo, but roughly one-third of commercial pilots work in other fields, including crop-dusting, aircraft testing, firefighting, search-and-rescue and law enforcement, according to the BLS.
Most employers seek pilots with at least two years of college education; many require a college degree. In addition, all pilots must be licensed by the FAA. Preferred undergraduate majors for pilots include mathematics, physics and aeronautical engineering. Most pilots receive flight training from the U.S. armed forces and civilian flight schools, including the 600 schools approved by the FAA as of 2009. A number of 4-year colleges also offer flight training as part of a bachelor's degree program.
There are several levels of flying licenses, ranging from student pilot to airline transport pilot. To obtain most types of flying licenses, pilots must be at least 18 years old, satisfy a written test and pass a physical examination; they must also log at least 250 hours of flying time. However, airline transport pilots must be 23 years old and log at least 1,500 hours of flying time.
Jobs for airline and commercial pilots are projected to witness a 7% growth in the period from 2014-2024. According to the BLS, most of the opportunities will be with low-cost and regional airlines and air cargo carriers. Competition for jobs at major airlines will be stiff, as the number of applicants will exceed the number of openings. Increased demand for passenger and cargo travel will be the main drivers for job growth. During this decade, many active airline pilots will also reach the mandatory retirement age of 65.
Aeronautical engineers design, test and oversee the production of airplanes, helicopters, rockets and other types of airborne craft. Some also develop advanced technologies for aerodynamic vehicles such as submarines, hydrofoils, high-speed trains and wind turbines. Employers include airplane and aerospace manufacturers, national laboratories and government agencies.
A bachelor's degree is required for nearly all entry-level aeronautical engineering jobs. The curriculum for a Bachelor of Science includes physical and life sciences, basic engineering courses, mathematics and courses on the fundamentals of flight. These lead to advanced courses in topics such as fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, propulsion, fluid dynamics, heat transfer and spacecraft design. Many aeronautical engineers also study mechanical engineering in college, according to the BLS.
Job Outlook and Salary Information
In 2015, there were 72,500 aerospace engineers, a broad term for aeronautical engineers, making an average salary of $107,830 in the U.S. The BLS projects a 2% job decline between 2014-2024. The increased use of computer simulations for designing and testing aircraft will reduce the need for more engineers (www.bls.gov).
Working in the aeronautical field is possible with an associate's degree, however more advancement opportunities and higher salaries are available for those holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Job growth in some occupations, such as pilot, is expected to be good through 2024, while maintenance technicians and aerospace engineers will see little growth or even a decline in the number of jobs in their fields.