Airline Industry Careers: Options and Requirements

Jun 28, 2021

Many people dream of flying, but some end up doing it for a living. Jobs in the airline industry include pilot, flight attendant, and aircraft mechanic. Becoming a pilot requires extensive training and usually a degree, and mechanics must attend technical college. Flight attendants can get started with just a high school education and receive training on the job.

Essential Information

Careers in the airline industry focus on all aspects of commercial flying, including aircraft maintenance, flight attending and aircraft piloting. All occupations in the airline industry require some training, either on-the-job or a formal education program, depending on the job.

Career Commercial Airline Pilot Aircraft Mechanic Flight Attendant
Education Requirements Military training, flight school or college degree Technical school On-the-job training and hands-on classes
Other Requirements FAA licensure, flying experience and physical fitness FAA licensure Customer service skills
Median Salary (2020) $93,300* $66,440* $59,050*
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 9%* 5%* 17%*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

The airline industry includes several career options including airline pilot, aircraft mechanic and flight attendant. For some of these careers, a person needs only a high school diploma while others require some type of formal education or certification. The following career options are available in the airline industry.

Commercial Airline Pilot

Commercial airline pilots are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly commercial airplanes. They typically work with at least one other licensed pilot, depending on the aircraft and the length of the flight. The pilot in charge is designated as the captain. Pilots operate the aircraft, communicate with air traffic controllers and ensure the safety of the passengers and crew throughout the flight.

The BLS reports that commercial airline pilots earned a median annual income of $93,300 as of May 2020. According to the BLS, commercial pilots are expected to see a 9% increase in job openings from 2019-2029.


The major requirements for commercial pilots are flying experience, education and FAA licensure. Many pilots are trained in the military or at a flying school. Completing an FAA-accredited flight training program may allow prospective commercial pilots to gain experience while learning flying skills not taught in the classroom. Employers often prefer to hire pilots who have completed a college degree. Courses may include aerospace engineering, aviation meteorology, physics and mathematics.

All commercial pilots must complete an oral, written and practical FAA licensing exam. Pilots also must pass a physical exam and meet the minimum number of required flying hours.

Aircraft pilots must also be able to work away from home for long periods. Many commercial airline pilots have irregular schedules and must stay overnight to accommodate flight schedules.

Aircraft Mechanic

Aircraft mechanics make sure that the aircraft is ready to fly by inspecting the aircraft's engine, instruments and aircraft body and fixing issues while the plane is on the ground. Many mechanics focus on a specific part of the aircraft, such as on the turbine engines and related systems. Aircraft mechanics are FAA licensed and may complete an education program from an aviation maintenance school.

As of May 2020, aircraft mechanics and service technicians brought in a median income of $66,440 annually, according to the BLS. Employment is expected to increase by five percent between 2019 and 2029, with growth being tempered somewhat due to airlines outsourcing more maintenance work to other countries.


Like pilots, airline mechanics need to be FAA licensed to work with passenger-carrying planes. Licensure involves completion of several months of technical training. Aviation maintenance programs at technical schools typically are 2-year degree programs focused on a specific area of airplane maintenance, such as power plants and airframes.

Prospective mechanics take a 3-part FAA licensing exam. The three areas contain a written, oral and practical exam based on the specific aircraft system studied.

Flight Attendant

Flight attendants brief passengers on safety protocols, help carry out those protocols in an emergency and may administer first aid. Flight attendants may also serve food and beverages, and assist passengers with needs during a flight. Potential flight attendants generally need a high school diploma and customer service experience.

Flight attendants earn a median annual income of $59,050 in 2020, according to the BLS. Employment is expected to increase by 17% over the 2019-2029 decade, which is much faster than average when compared to all other occupations.


Flight attendants require good customer service skills. On-the-job training programs cover situational awareness, distraction management, conflict resolution and other hospitality topics. Additionally, training may involve hands-on classes in proper safety procedures in a mock airplane.

Like commercial pilots, flight attendants often work long hours and are away from home frequently. Attendants who are bilingual and have college experience may have better opportunities.

Flying a commercial airliner is a challenging, highly technical job that requires a college degree as well as extensive flight experience and an FAA license. Ensuring that the plane is airworthy and in good condition falls to the aircraft mechanics, who receive plenty of specialized training and must also be FAA licensed. Flight attendants are generally trained while on the job, and need to be great at customer service but also cool in an emergency and able to handle conflict effectively.

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