Flying High: 7 Top Jobs in Aviation

If you're yearning to take to the skies with your career, a job in aviation is the perfect answer for you. Whether you want to spend the majority of your time traveling from one place to another, or you're fascinated by the mechanics of aviation and want to learn about the inner workings of an aircraft, there's a job for you in aviation. Shortages of pilots and mechanics are creating several openings in these areas, but there are many other opportunities to explore that may cater uniquely to your interests and talents.

Commercial Pilot

Plane in sky with jet stream

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The airline pilot shortage has been an ongoing story for half a decade. The Continental Express crash in 2009 led to a new mandate that first officers for commercial airlines must hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. The result is a more timely and costly education and thus a shortage of commercial airline pilots. Add to this the fact that a large portion of the workforce is reaching the age of retirement, and you have ample opportunities for job seekers willing to amass the required flight hours for this position.

Airline pilots need a bachelor's degree, commercial pilot's license, and Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Airline and commercial pilots also undergo on-the-job training, which typically includes six to eight weeks of ground school and 25 hours of flight time. The median wage for commercial pilots is $73,280. Those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $38,520 while those in the top 10 percent make more than $134,990.

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanic or Technician

Aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians handle scheduled maintenance and repairs for aircraft. They evaluate flight data, diagnose problems, repair and replace components as needed, and inspect completed work. These professionals typically attend an Aviation Maintenance Technician School. There are several different certificates and licenses available that may determine the exact position that a mechanic or technician holds.

Boeing predicts that aviation maintenance technicians will be in high demand in coming years, with a need for 600,000 employees in this field by 2031. The median annual wage for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians is $55,210. Those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $35,190 while those in the top 10 percent make more than $76,660.

Commercial Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers coordinate air traffic by issuing landing and takeoff instructions, responding to emergencies, and providing pilots with essential information. From runway closures to weather updates, air traffic controllers need to understand everything going on in their sphere of control. While the most important concern for these professionals is obviously safety, they must also strive to maintain efficient and timely dispatches when all is running smoothly.

Air traffic controllers typically complete the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative. This program is available as part of a two- or four-year degree program. Upon completion, students must pass the Air Traffic Standardized Aptitude Test, which takes about eight hours. The median wage for air traffic controllers is $122,530. Those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $64,930 while those in the top 10 percent make more than $171,340. This is an incredibly lucrative job, but highly competitive for the same reason.

Aerospace Program Manager

Aviation and aerospace program managers enjoy a median salary of $101,098. Applicants need a bachelor's degree, preferably in aviation management. Certification with the American Association of Airport Executives or National Business Aviation Association is highly preferred. As an aerospace program manager, you will make sure that your airport or airline is meeting all rules and regulations, oversee hiring, and maintain overall efficiency within your company.

Aviation Safety Inspector

Aviation safety inspectors typically have previous experience as a pilot, navigator, repairman, or other aviation professionals. Aviation safety inspectors may work in one of two specialties. Those in operations are responsible for overseeing the operation of aircraft. This safety inspector examines airmen for certification, evaluates training programs, and evaluates air carriers' operational programs. Safety inspectors who specialize in airworthiness evaluate mechanics, repair facilities, and training programs for mechanics. They also inspect aircraft and equipment for suitability for safe flight.

It's possible to get a job as an aviation inspector with as little as an associate's degree. However, prior experience in aviation is extremely important, so it's unlikely that you will land this job early in your career. Aviation inspectors typically earn between $40,000 and $60,000 annually. FAA aviation inspectors earn a base salary of $127,682.

Flight Instructor

Aviation professionals who have amassed a great deal of time in the air can become aviation instructors. Many instructors enjoy a flexible schedule and manage the number of students they take on so they can elect to work part-time or full-time in this occupation. Flight instructors must have pilot training and instructor certification.

Flight instructors provide lessons both on the ground and in the air. Ground school classes prepare students for the written test necessary to get a pilot's license. Time in the air helps students amass the required number of flight hours for their license. The median salary for flight instructors is a comfortable $115,190 a year.

Flight Attendant

Flight attendant is an ideal career choice for someone who's interested in aviation but wants a taste of the profession with minimal educational commitment. This is one of the rare jobs that don't require a degree. The most important training takes place with the airline. This typically lasts from three to six weeks. Upon completion of the training program, flight attendants receive the FAA Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency.

The median annual wage for flight attendants is $37,340. Those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $27,240 while those in the top 10 percent make more than $66,460. One of the greatest draws for this profession is the opportunity to travel. Flight attendants typically spend two to three nights a week away from home.

Make your career take flight with one of these great careers in aviation. See the world or manage travel for others from an authoritative spot on the ground with one of these jobs.

Contributed to by Kim Hale

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