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Aircraft Engineer

Education and Training: Bachelor’s degree in engineering
Average Salary: $51,937 to $116,224 a year
Job Outlook: Good

The job of aircraft engineers, also known as avionics engineers, is to keep aircraft in top operating condition. They make scheduled inspections and maintenance, as well as repairs in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regulations.

Some aircraft engineers concentrate mainly on preventive maintenance. They check and examine the landing gears, engines, instruments, accessories, and pressurized sections of aircraft. In addition, they maintain records pertaining to the maintenance performed.

Aircraft engineers conduct their inspection based on a fixed cycle of operation, how many hours the plane has flown, how many days it has been since the last maintenance, or a combination of any of these factors. Large aircrafts usually have sophisticated monitoring systems that allow aircraft engineers to gather valuable data from electronic boxes. In all kinds of planes, they examine engines by standing on special ladders and working through special aircraft openings. They may also use lifts to completely remove the engine from the plane.

Once the engine has been taken apart, aircraft engineers utilize precision instruments to check for wear and tear. They also use x-ray and other advanced tools to spot cracks that are not invisible to the naked eye. After the repairs are done, they conduct testing to ensure that the newly installed parts are working properly.

In finding what needs to be fixed, aircraft engineers depend on the description of the problem given by the pilot. For instance, a pilot may inform an aircraft engineer that the plane’s fuel gauge is not functioning properly. Based on this information, engineers know where to start making their repairs. Aircraft engineers work as fast as possible without sacrificing safety so that the vehicle can be ready for use immediately.

Some engineers work on several types of aircraft, such as commercial airplanes, jets, and helicopters. Others may choose to specialize in a single section of one type of aircraft, such as hydraulics, engine, or electrical system.

Education and Training Requirements

At the very least, aircraft engineers must possess a suitable bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. A degree in mechanical or aerospace engineering would be best. An appropriate degree will cover the fundamental concepts that are needed for the job. Important engineering topics to be covered are thermodynamics, propulsion, aerodynamics, and fluid mechanics. Subjects will also include physics, chemistry, calculus, and statistics.

Some universities require its students to participate in an on-the-job training prior to graduation in order to prepare them for real work. This not only provides compensation, but also much-need work experience that will help one land a job in the future.

There are some aircraft engineers who choose to undergo further studies to complement their work experience. Those undergoing a master’s degree education attend advanced classes that are related to the aeronautics field. Here, they perform a lot of research work and make thesis projects related to aircraft engineering. As with an undergraduate engineering major, graduate programs may require their students to undergo on-the-job training in aeronautical engineering firms.

Aircraft engineers who offer their services to the public must obtain a license from the state in which they live. To attain a license, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, four years of relevant work experience, and a passing score in a state-sponsored test are required. Aeronautical engineering graduates can opt to take the fundamentals of engineering part of the exam upon graduation, then take the practice of engineering part as soon as they’ve acquired the required four years of work experience.

Getting the Job

In order to get a job as an aircraft engineer, there are some requirements to be met because of the technical nature of the position. Most employers require applicants who have an appropriate bachelor’s degree as this would provide them with the necessary engineering fundamentals in order to do the job. An aircraft engineer’s job is very precise, and there are specific courses that one should take in order to be successful at it.

A lot of employers are looking for candidates who possess relevant working experience. If you want to boost your chances of getting hired, you should participate in internships preceding graduation. Go to your university’s career planning office to get a listing of companies that accept interns.

For further assistance with career development, you may join professional associations. Doing so will increase your personal network and allow you to get advice regarding your career. Through such associations, you may also learn about job openings.

You may also check for vacancies through online job listings. Check the websites of airline companies and recruitment firms.

Once you’ve successfully gotten an interview schedule, prepare for it. Employers are seeking candidates who are self-motivated, detail-oriented, and highly analytical. They’re also looking for those with excellent technical skills. Apart from these, employers prefer applicants who are physically fit to handle the job. Engineers may be required to climb ladders, work on top of airplane wings, and carry heavy tools, so they must be healthy and fit.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Job growth for aircraft engineers is estimated to be at 10% between 2008 and 2018. This is about as fast as that of other professions. This stems from the need to replace workers who will retire or those who will transfer into another field. In spite of the fact that more and more students are taking a specialized degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering, these new graduates will replace those who will leave the profession.

Also contributing to good job prospects are the recent advancements in technology. New aircraft designs that will be produced in the next decade should create demand for aircraft engineers.

Entry-level aircraft engineers typically work under the supervision of a lead engineer. As they gain more knowledge on the job and via in-house trainings, they will be assigned more complex projects and be allowed greater independence in problem-solving and decision-making. Eventually, entry-level engineers get promoted as technical specialists or as supervisors that handle a team of aircraft engineers. Some may even enter into sales, as their engineering background enables them to professionally talk about the technical aspects of a product.

For those wanting to move up the career ladder faster, they may attain professional certifications. This will definitely help in their promotion to managerial or senior technical positions.

Working Conditions and Environment

Aircraft engineers usually work in indoor areas such as hangars. However, when hangars are already full or when an aircraft needs to be repaired as soon as possible, they may work outside, sometimes under harsh weather conditions. The job can be stressful because they have to work as precisely and accurately as possible, but they also have to do it fast in order to keep passengers from waiting and to avoid the disruption of flight schedules.

Because their job is to conduct maintenance and repair on aircraft, they have to pull or lift heavy objects. Also, they may work in unstable and awkward positions. Engines have to be tested so aircraft engineers are constantly exposed to vibrations and noises.

Aircraft engineers are required to render at least 40 hours of work a week. However, they are expected to perform overtime work because sometimes problems may occur during non-working hours.

Salary and Benefits

On the average, the salaries of aircraft engineers range from $51,937 to $116,224 a year.

Compensation increases as aircraft engineers acquire more experience on the job. Entry-level engineers receive salaries ranging from $43,916 to $74,834. Those with one to four years of experience earn anywhere from $49,890 to $80,296 a year. Salaries of those with five to nine years of relevant working experience start at $59,638 and reach $98,626. Those who are already 10 to 19 years in the professions make $71,596 to $120,574 annually. The most experienced in the field with 20 or more years earn $84,609 to as high as $147,530.

Compensation may also differ based on industry. Those in the commercial aircraft, military, and space systems field earn the highest, with salaries spanning $51,549 to $119,322 yearly. Those in the aerospace and defense industry get the second highest, with annual earnings ranging from $57,524 to $118,468.

Aircraft engineers get the standard benefits such as health insurance, life insurance, and retirement benefits. They also get paid personal, sick, and vacation days.

Where to Go for More Information
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
1801 Alexander Bell Dr., Ste. 500
Reston, VA 20191-4344
(703) 264-7500

American Society for Engineering Education
1818 N St., N.W., Ste. 600
Washington, DC 20036-2479
(202) 331-3500

National Society of Professional Engineers
1420 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314–2794
(703) 684-2800

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