Careers in Aviation

Aiming high? Consider a career in the skies

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Come fly the friendly skies…or stay on the ground or join the military! With an aviation career, you can work on land, sea or in the air.

“While being the pilot has traditionally gotten to be the more glamorous position, the facts are those airplanes would never make it off the ground if there weren’t a whole host of people involved,” says Capt. Rick Maloney, dean of the College of Aviation at Western Michigan University.

Other aviation-related jobs include dispatchers, crew schedulers, flight attendants, baggage handlers and maintenance personnel.

“Then we can get into the entire world of aircraft design and engineering, manufacturing and interior design. Graduates from a fashion design background can find themselves decorating and designing the inside of airplanes,” Maloney says.

Here are three aviation careers to consider.


Commercial pilot

To become a commercial pilot, you have to take lessons from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved instructor. Pilots receive training at an airport, a college or in the military.

“The best part of being a pilot is having a job that you love,” says Maloney. “Once you are bitten by the aviation bug, it is something you will want to do forever. And the thought of being paid to do something you love is the best part.”

The seriousness of the job is the most challenging part of being a pilot, says Maloney, who has been flying for more than 33 years and retired as vice president of flight operations for United Airlines.

“You have sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, family and friends on the airplane with you, and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” he says.

A pilot’s work hours can also be challenging. You could be gone four days, home for two and then have to leave again.

“But as your seniority grows, you will be able to bid the best times for you to fly and will be able to enjoy both a family and your career,” Maloney says.

Perks can include meal vouchers, free or cheap airfare for pilots and their families, uniform allowance and health benefits. As far as salary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that pilot salaries vary depending on seniority, plane size, cargo and company. Airline pilots earn an average of $92,060, according to the BLS in 2010.


Aircraft mechanic

If your passion is for technology, the field of aviation offers positions as mechanics. Military contractors, airports, airlines, corporations and individual pilots hire aviation technicians.

You might consider a certification as an airframe and power plant technician, where you’ll learn how to fix an airplane’s air conditioning, pressuring, electrical and fuel systems. You’ll also learn welding, woodworking, aerodynamics, engine systems and corrosion control. Or you could become an avionics technician and work with an aircraft’s electronic communications, radar, navigation and auto pilot systems.

Non-flying aviation careers are in high demand, says Tom Kirk, aviation division director at Enterprise-Ozark Community College in Alabama. “We’re placing everybody that graduates and is employable,” Kirk says.

Courses from a two-year degree or certification in aircraft maintenance may transfer for credit to a bachelor’s degree in the field—often a requirement if management is your goal.

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians can expect to make an average of $53,220 per year or $25.59 per hour, reports the BLS.


Military pilot

Every military branch has aviation opportunities. In addition to pilot, you’ll find job titles such as navigator, loadmaster, flight engineer, crew chief, gunner and bombardier.

In the Army, aviation career fields include enlisted soldiers trained in helicopter maintenance and air operations; aviation warrant officers; and commissioned officers who are qualified pilots.

CW4 Scott M. McCrea is an Army aviator in Fort Knox, Ky. “The best part of being an aviator is of course the opportunity to fly a multimillion dollar helicopter while seeing many different parts of the world,” he says. “The other thing is working with highly trained, highly motivated pilots and maintenance personnel who enjoy doing what they do. The camaraderie is something special.”

While flying is an aviator’s primary job, they do not fly every day and are assigned additional duties.

McCrea says the most challenging part of being an aviator is maintaining knowledge and proficiency in aircraft.

“Most aviation skills are perishable; if you don’t practice them, you tend to lose proficiency,” he says. “Knowledge, skills and situational awareness are what allow you to quickly analyze and react properly to most incidents.”



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