Students who are interested in building careers in aircraft technology might consider enrolling in degree programs in aviation maintenance technology, aerospace engineering technology, or professional piloting. Programs are available at the associate's and bachelor's levels. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accredits aviation degree programs that meet its standards. Degree programs combine classroom learning with practical experience and some training is available online.
Associate's Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology
Degree programs in aviation maintenance are typically offered at the associate's degree level. These programs aim to prepare students for aircraft maintenance positions. Some programs specialize either in airframe maintenance (which involves the body of the aircraft), powerplant maintenance (focusing on the engine, propellers, or other power systems), or avionics (working with the navigation, radio, and control systems). A high school diploma or equivalent is required for admission to an aviation maintenance technology program. Prior knowledge of electronics is useful.
Students learn the necessary skills for maintaining and repairing aircraft. Courses might include:
- Aviation physics
- Basic electricity
- Aircraft welding
- Aircraft instrument systems
- Electrical systems
- Power systems
Bachelor's Degree in Aerospace Engineering
Another option for those who are interested in aircraft technology is a degree program in aerospace engineering, usually offered at the bachelor's degree level. These programs provide an in-depth understanding of aerodynamics, flight mechanics, and propulsion as well as aircraft design, structure, and manufacturing. Students could be prepared for careers that involve the design and manufacturing of aircraft. Previous coursework in math and physics is recommended. A high school diploma or equivalent is required for admission into bachelor's degree programs. Some engineering schools may have additional prerequisites or minimum grade point average requirements.
Students take courses in general engineering as well as courses wherein they apply engineering knowledge to aircraft-related issues. Topics might include:
- Engineering graphics
- Computer programming for engineers
- Space flight mechanics
- Structure and properties of materials
- Aerostructure mechanics
Bachelor's Degree in Professional Piloting
Although not always a requirement, most aspiring pilots now earn a college degree, according to the BLS. A bachelor's degree in professional piloting, such as a Bachelor in Aviation Technology or a Bachelor in Flight Technology and Operations, prepare students to operate aircraft. Students can earn ratings and certificates and begin acquiring flight time. Although programs may not have any educational prerequisites, students are required to pass a physical evaluation and meet FAA medical standards.
Students participate in ground school and may receive actual flight time. Some topics covered might include:
- Aviation safety
- FAA regulations
- Flight theory
- Aircraft systems
- Weather and atmosphere
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Aerospace engineers, as well as aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians, should see little-to-no job growth, and perhaps slight decline, over the decade from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. The median salary for aerospace engineers was $107,380 annually in May 2015, per the BLS. The median salary in May 2015 among aircraft mechanics and service technicians was reported to be $58,370.
The employment of airline and commercial pilots is expected to grow by 5% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. Commercial pilots should see the strongest growth with increased jobs projected in a variety of industries such as ambulance services and air transportation support. In 2015, the median annual wages for pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $117,290, although salaries fluctuate widely based on rank, seniority, size and type of aircraft, and employer.
Licensing and Continuing Education
Professional engineers need to obtain a license. Those with a bachelor's degree from an accredited school can take the initial Fundamentals of Engineering exam and become engineers in training. After acquiring the necessary work experience, engineers in training can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam to become professional engineers. Continuing education may be required to maintain licensure.
The FAA requires that all maintenance work be performed by or under the supervision of a certified mechanic. Therefore, most airlines prefer to hire only FAA-certified mechanics. Applicants must have work experience and will have to pass written, oral, and practical tests to become certified. Continuing education is required to maintain certification.
Pilots must be licensed by the FAA. Applicants must have at least 250 hours of flight time, pass a physical exam, have 20/20 vision, pass a written test, and demonstrate flying ability. The FAA has additional requirements for airline pilots. These professionals must undergo periodic physical, sight, and flying skills exams. Continuing education might be required by employers.
To lay the groundwork for a career in aircraft technology, students can pursue an associate's degree in aviation maintenance technology or a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or piloting. Through these programs, they'll develop a fundamental understanding of the make-up and functionality of aircraft necessary to obtain the required licensure to pursue a career in the field.