Students who pursue aeronautics degrees develop the math and science skills to occupy technical positions within the aviation industry. With additional flight training, they may work as professional pilots. There are ample job opportunities for aeronautics graduates, spurred by developments in aircraft technology and safety regulations as well as the growing demands of U.S. national defense. The Aerospace Industries Association reports that the aerospace and defense industry employed over 2.4 million workers in 2016, including 13% of the nation's total manufacturing workforce.
Although professionals can access some entry-level aeronautics careers with an associate degree, or even just a high school diploma, the majority of positions (and advancement opportunities) require at least bachelor's credentials. Students should start planning their careers well before graduation, taking advantage of their school's career resources. Job search also necessitates independent preparation.
Skills Gained in a Aeronautics Program
Academic programs in aeronautical science provide students with the fundamental skills needed for career entry and advancement. Through classroom instruction, candidates delve into aviation meteorology and physical science. They learn about aviation security with regard to industry standards and federal regulations. College programs also provide laboratory training, enabling learners to gain hands-on experience calculating aerodynamics and facilitating air traffic control. At the graduate level, academic preparation centers on research, leadership training, and program management.
Aeronautical professionals continually expand their skill set by earning state licensure and industry-specific certificates.
- Integrative Communication
- All professionals should learn to communicate clearly in oral, written, and multimedia formats. Integrative communication represents a crucial skill for dispatchers and air traffic controllers. Students develop the ability to convey complex information to diverse audiences. They also train to create research abstracts, technical reports, project proposals, and official letters.
- Research Methodologies
- Another integral skill, particularly for learners who want to pursue careers in academics or aerospace engineering, research methodologies enable students to conduct basic scientific inquiry within the context of aviation. Candidates learn to gather resources, examine relevant literature, design experiments with clear objectives, and write reports that align with industry best practices.
- Ethical Decision-Making
- The ability to make sound decisions in fraught situations is highly important for all professionals involved in the flight process. Ethical decision-making is a required part of a pilot's education. They train to consistently determine the best course of action by conducting risk management and assessing conditions based on a given set of circumstances.
- This skill concerns the entirety of flight and related processes as established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Students examine advanced aerodynamics with regard to weight, performance, balance, and aeromedical factors. They also train to use global positioning systems (GPS) and other avionics tools to assess weather conditions and determine flight paths. Aeronautics also entails air traffic control within the framework of airspace and national/international regulations.
- Aerospace Technologies
- Regardless of their specific aeronautics careers, all professionals in the field need to possess a firm understanding of aerospace history, including basic designs and mechanics. Developments in aerospace technologies affect flight processes, aviation safety, and the workings of the National Airspace System. This is a particularly important skill set for aerospace engineers, technicians, and manufacturers.
Why Pursue a Career in Aeronautics?
Aeronautics careers span industries like business, management, aircraft design, and commercial and military flight. With adequate academic training and certification/licensure, professionals can work as aerospace engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that aerospace engineering positions will increase 6% from 2016 to 2026, adding more than 4,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy. In addition to the accessibility of global flight transit, the expanding commercial interest in unmanned aircrafts contributes significantly to the demand for skilled engineers.
Students who earn aeronautical science and aviation degrees also prepare for careers in aviation safety and maintenance. Air traffic control positions are projected to grow 3% between 2016 and 2026, while commercial and airline pilots stand to benefit from a 4% increase in occupational opportunities. The BLS projects a 5% occupation growth for aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians during this same time frame.
Candidates can also pursue military careers as aircrew, military engineers, and fighter/combat pilots. The persistent threat of global terrorism and America's military presence in multiple regions mean that professionals with career interests in the armed services enjoy ample opportunites for entry and growth.
Due to technological advancements and shifting government regulations, the aeronautics field continues to evolve, creating space for new career opportunities. Professionals maintain skills and keep abreast of developments by engaging in continuing education. They earn specialized certificates from organizations like the National Center for Aerospace & Transportation Technologies.
How Much Do Aeronautics Graduates Make?
Below are median salaries for professionals in aerospace engineering. Although these wages factor in experience level, they do not consider qualities like industry or individual job functions.
The BLS reports that aerospace engineers earn average annual salaries from $71,640 (the lowest 10%) to $164,210 (the highest 90%). While industry and location impact pay potential (covered in a later section in this guide), level of educational attainment also affects salary. On average, those with a master's degree earn $12,000 more in annual salary than professionals with bachelor's credentials. Individuals with graduate degrees also benefit from a lower unemployment rate.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
Earn Your Degree
Most aeronautics careers require either bachelor's or master's degrees in aviation, aeronautical science, aerospace engineering, or another relevant field of study. Academic programs train students in multidisciplinary and career-relevant skills, which include problem-solving and critical thinking. Students also gain core math competencies in areas like applied calculus and statistics. By developing a foundation in mathematics, candidates can go on to calculate the dynamics of flight with regard to stability derivatives. Math is also a cornerstone of engineering and information systems technology, both major subfields within aeronautics.
While all students learn to effectively communicate, the integrative nature of online education trains distance learners to speak cogently and write persuasively for diverse audiences. Online students also gain hands-on experience with technological forms of communication, often powered by asynchronous course platforms and video conferencing tools. These modes of digital learning and collaboration prepare candidates to enter a global workforce that increasingly comprises partially or fully remote occupations.
At the bachelor's and graduate levels, academic training routinely includes practicum requirements. Students complete internships, field research projects, and fellowships to gain the hands-on experience that employers value. A 2017 study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 91% of surveyed companies preferred to hire candidates with work experience; 65% of this group stated they prioritize applicants with relevant experience in their field.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become an Aerospace Engineer?
With undergraduate or master's credentials, professionals may apply for career entry. Advancement opportunities are contingent on a candidate's skill level, demonstrated through not only academic preparation but also state licenses, specialty certificates, and relevant work experience. Professionals who want to occupy management positions usually need to display at least three years of leadership accomplishments.
Conventional bachelor's programs typically take four years to complete. Students can hasten degree completion by enrolling in accelerated online tracks. These intensive programs operate eight-week classes year-round, enabling distance learners to earn their credentials in just two years. Similarly, graduate students can opt for a one-year master's program in lieu of a traditional two-year degree plan.
Course formats and scheduling also determine program length. Most colleges and universities allow students to individually pace their coursework. However, some schools utilize a cohort learning structure, which requires learners to advance through the program at the same pace as other students. This collaborative format engenders peer-to-peer learning and relationship building, but it may increase the time to graduation.
Concentrations Available for Aeronautics Majors
- Aerospace Engineering
- Aerospace engineering trains students to design and construct spacecraft and aircraft. Coursework includes solar and space physics, compressible flow and propulsion, and atmospheric flight mechanics. This is an obvious concentration for students who want to work as licensed engineers. It is also an important focus for mechanics and professionals who want to work in the aviation manufacturing industry.
- Professional Flight
- This concentration trains learners to become commercial airline pilots. Some schools offer a specialized military training track for those who want to pursue careers in the armed services. In either case, students take required classes like aeronautics navigation, propulsion systems, and safety and regulations. They also complete simulations and supervised practice flights.
- Aviation Dispatch and Safety
- Dispatchers work with commanding pilots to facilitate operational control of commercial flights. The dispatch concentration trains students in weather theory, aircraft systems and limitations, and navigation. Candidates also learn to apply minimum equipment lists and negotiate human factors considerations. Dispatchers engage in simulation training in preparation for their FAA aircraft dispatcher certification exam.
- Aviation Maintenance Technology
- A popular concentration for aviation mechanics and safety experts, maintenance technology teaches students to maintain the power plant and airframe of an airplane. Classes include aircraft metallic and composite structures, power plant electrical instrument systems, and repair station operations. In addition to classroom instruction, students participate in hands-on projects centered on aircraft testing and engine buildup/breakdown. By completing this concentration, candidates can sit for their FAA mechanic's certificate exam.
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations
- This relatively new degree concentration trains students to build, inspect, and operate drones and other unmanned aircrafts. Candidates take coursework in remote-pilot operations, UAS sensing systems, and UAS operational standards and safety regulations. They also learn to use geographic information systems to collect data and map areas of interest. Due to the diverse applications of UAS, trained professionals may pursue careers in industries like disaster response, agriculture, media, and military defense.
What Can You Do With an Aeronautics Degree?
The accessibility of aeronautics careers greatly depends on a professional's degree level and their training. Associate degree-holders can work as airplane mechanics, freight and cargo administrators, and airport security officers. Some two-year programs prepare students for careers as certified flight instructors. Other options train students to become dispatchers and air traffic controllers.
To access commercial and military flying careers, students need to earn a bachelor's degree in aeronautics with a professional flight concentration. Colleges and universities generally operate traditional and online programs in this field and others to meet the needs of diverse students. Baccalaureate credentials also prepare students to work as mechanical and aerospace engineers.
Furthermore, programs that emphasize engineering and design enable candidates to pursue military defense occupations, developing smart weapons and unmanned aircraft. Properspective aerospace engineers should note that state licensure is required to work in advanced public and government positions. Aeronautics professionals who want to occupy senior management positions generally obtain doctoral credentials.
Associate Degree in Aeronautics
Associate programs in aeronautics generally total at least 60 credits, which students typically complete in two years. Some colleges offer accelerated tracks that enable full-time candidates to earn their degree in 18 months. Career entry is possible with an associate degree. However, many students choose the transfer option, enrolling in bachelor's completion programs after two years to strengthen their skills and accumulate additional hands-on experience.
Course topics differ based on associate program type. For example, aviation management students take classes in the national airspace system, air transportation logistics, and aviation planning. Associate flight programs consist of courses like primary flight theory, multi-instrument applications, and reciprocation in jet airplane systems. Students also complete flight training and practicums in air carrier operations.
- Aircraft Mechanic
These professionals perform scheduled and emergency maintenance on aircrafts. They diagnose electronic/mechanical problems and replace wings, brakes, and other defective components as necessary. Aircraft mechanics inspect completed repairs to ensure they meet industry standards and keep records of their work. To work as an aircraft mechanic, professionals obtain FAA certification.
- Production Manager, Manufacturing
These organizational leaders oversee the daily operations of manufacturing plants. Production managers recruit, train, and coordinate employees. They also evaluate workers to ensure they meet safety and performance standards. Additionally, these professionals analyze production data to make sure work stays within budget and on schedule. In addition to academic credentials, candidates need to accumulate extensive work experience to become production managers.
Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautics
To earn a bachelor's degree in aeronautics, students usually complete at least 120 credits, which takes 2-4 years depending on the format of their program. Course requirements significantly differ based on the type of bachelor's track. Students who enroll in general aeronautics or aviation management programs can expect classes like advanced airplane aerodynamics and GPS navigation. They also train in corporate aviation practices, with emphasis on financial accounting and project management.
Prospective engineers should enroll in aerospace or mechanical engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Later in their career, these practitioners often earn a professional engineer license. This voluntary credential demonstrates expertise and allows for greater responsibilities and independence.
- Aerospace Engineer
Aerospace engineers design, manufacture, and test aircraft products. They evaluate production proposals to ensure the technical and financial feasibility of specifications. These professionals also determine if projects will result in safe operations according to engineering principles, quality standards, and environmental regulations. Aerospace engineers may specialize in astronautical technology to develop spacecraft, traditional satellites, and CubeSats.
- Mechanical Engineer
These professionals conduct research on and oversee the development of mechanical devices, including components like engines, tools, and thermal sensors. They use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to create prototypes. Mechanical engineers run simulations to test how a device will likely function in relation to connected systems. These professionals also diagnose equipment failures and recommend repairs.
Master's Degree in Aeronautics
Master's programs in aeronautics generally total a minimum of 30 credits, which students typically complete in 1-2 years. Many schools operate 4+1 tracks that enable learners to earn their bachelor's and master's credentials in five years. In addition to courses like international aviation policy and advanced aerospace planning systems, graduate curriculums emphasize research and statistical analysis. Students usually round out their training with a capstone project and/or comprehensive exam.
Dual-degree programs deliver comprehensive training, which greatly benefits candidates who want to occupy leadership positions or work in industries that require specialized certification.
Career options include senior engineer, airport manager, and aviation consultant. Graduates may also open private flight companies.
- Aerospace Systems Engineer
To occupy this position, professionals need advanced skills in aerospace, electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering. Aerospace systems engineers develop the control mechanisms for guidance systems and propulsion systems. They also oversee flight craft design, assessing designs for safety and feasibility. Because aerospace systems engineers lead diverse teams, they need strong project management and human resource skills.
- Senior Mechanical Engineer
Unlike staff engineers, senior mechanical engineers work on multiple projects at a time. They also train and coordinate employees, manage budgets and timelines, and negotiate with vendors. Furthermore, seniors are responsible for writing technical reports and relaying progress to organizational leaders and stakeholders. By accumulating work experience, senior engineers may occupy principal positions within their companies.
Doctoral Degree in Aeronautics
Higher education institutions usually offer Ph.D. programs in aviation sciences, aeronautics and astronautics, and/or aerospace engineering. Doctoral degree plans typically range from 50-70 credits. Students generally graduate in 4-7 years depending on the nature of their dissertation project. Candidates spend the first two years completing designated coursework. They dedicate the remainder of the program to conducting autonomous research and presenting at academic conferences in preparation for thesis defense.
Ph.D. candidates pursue cutting-edge experimentation. They tackle pertinent issues in the field, like the challenges that arise from increasingly complex interactions between humans and aircraft technology. Candidates apply research findings to develop real-world solutions through improved aeronautical processes and products.
- Vice President, Engineering
These business leaders manage teams of engineers as part of their company's research and development initiatives. VPs coach team members, providing technical guidance and reviewing performance as necessary. They report directly to the president or CEO. Engineering VPs work with other members of senior management to plan projects, establish long-term objectives, and allocate resources.
- Project Manager, Engineering
Within the aerospace engineering field, project managers lead groups of specialized engineers through the production cycle. These professionals facilitate product development and create strategic plans with respect to customer requirements. They prepare cost proposals and maintain expense records throughout the project cycle. Managers should possess strong communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution skills.
Where Can I Work as an Aeronautics Graduate?
Careers in flight and aeronautics science encompass industries like government research, aerospace engineering, military defense, commercial manufacturing, and business management. By obtaining master's and doctoral degrees, aeronautics professionals can also work as private consultants and postsecondary teachers.
Industry greatly affects salary and employment prospects. According to the BLS, aerospace product and parts manufacturers boast the highest employment level and concentration of aerospace engineers. However, these professionals enjoy the best average salaries when working for scientific research and development firms.
Location significantly impacts cost of living as well as the accessibility and pay of aeronautics careers. Although aerospace engineers do not need to earn state licensure to occupy entry-level occupations, high-ranking positions, particularly with government agencies and the military, often require this credential. The process involves accruing relevant work experience and passing a state-specific examination. Engineers should note that licensure may not automatically transfer across state lines. Professionals should always consult relevant government agencies when deciding to relocate.
BLS data shows that California boasts the highest employment level for aerospace engineers, followed by Texas, Alabama, Ohio, and Maryland. These professionals receive the best salaries when working in the District of Columbia. Engineers who prefer to reside in nonmetropolitan areas should take advantage of the ample opportunities in northeast Virginia and eastern New Mexico.
- Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing
This industry consists of companies producing aircraft, space vehicles, propulsion units, engines, and guided missiles. Firms that produce transport aircraft make up a large segment of this industry's nonmilitary sector. Professionals usually work as engineers and production managers.
Average Salary: $115,130
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry predominantly employs staff, senior, and principal aerospace engineers. Professionals can pursue positions in drafting firms, creating detailed layouts of aerospace products. They may also work for testing laboratories and inspection services.
Average Salary: $115,160
- Federal Executive Branch
Although aeronautics careers span multiple departments within the federal executive branch, the majority of professionals work for the Department of Defense. Engineers and technicians can also find opportunities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Average Salary: $120,380
- Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing
This industry consists of companies that produce aeronautical instruments, including aircraft navigation and guidance systems, GPS devices, and laboratory measuring equipment. In addition to research and development opportunities in the U.S., professionals can seek opportunities in emerging global markets, particularly India, China, and the Middle East.
Average Salary: $122,430
- Scientific Research and Development Services
This industry encompasses three main endeavors: basic research, applied research, and product development. Professionals work to design and create new aerospace technologies, including unmanned vehicles, space systems, and stronger, lighter aircraft materials. Dedicated research scientists typically possess doctoral degrees.
Average Salary: $128,980
How Do You Find a Job in Aeronautics?
In 2016, U.S. aerospace and defense outperformed other industries in terms of export revenue, producing a 2.2% increase over the previous year in comparison to the 3.3% decrease for all other national goods. This expansion points to occupational growth for many aeronautics careers. To access these lucrative opportunities, job seekers need to begin their search as early as possible. By leaving plenty of time, professionals can properly conduct research on major employers and open positions.
Professionals should also give themselves room to reflect on immediate and long-term career goals. Clarifying their motivations allows candidates to effectively answer major interview questions, including the ubiquitous "Where do you see yourself in five years?" As they write resumes and cover letters, job seekers can use document templates to initially organize content. However, final application materials should be tailored to specific position requirements.
Industry organizations offer tools and resources that can help aeronautics professionals expand job prospects. SAE International supports all professionals in the transportation fields and provide scholarship and certification opportunities. The Society of Flight Test Engineers and the Vertical Flight Society deliver career guidance, online job listings, and networking events.
Professional Resources for Aeronautics Majors
Founded in 1963, AIAA now supports over 30,000 individual members and 95 corporate members in 88 countries. The institute maintains industry standards for research and publication. Professionals collaborate through volunteer opportunities and technical committees. Students access design competitions, academic scholarships, and conferences. AIAA also delivers online education resources, expert career guidance, and job postings.
AESS funds research initiatives into areas like radar systems, cybersecurity, and aerospace control and guidance systems. The society maintains a vast digital library and offers professional support through its fellowship program. Members also benefit from online learning tools and the Distinguished Lecture and Tutorial Program, an in-person seminar series facilitated through local chapters. Additional resources include student mentoring programs, award opportunities, and a job board.
AUVSI represents members in over 60 countries who work in civil, defense, and commercial industries. The association offers membership for individual professionals, corporations, and students. Members gain access to research publications, best practices guides, training programs, and webinars. AUVSI offers dedicated student support, which includes award competitions, internship opportunities, and career guidance.
For over 70 years, HAI has advanced the helicopter flight industry through public policy advocacy and professional development efforts. Pilots can network with peers and industry partners as well as search for jobs online. They may also pursue skill development through HAI, including safety accreditation certification. Furthermore, the association offers individual guidance for military personnel who want to transition into a civilian career.
Founded in 1866 in Great Britain, RAeS now supports professionals, researchers, and students worldwide. The society connects members through programs like the Young Persons Network, the Women in Aviation Network, and specialist groups. Members can access initial and continuing professional development opportunities online and through regional partner organizations. RAeS also provides comprehensive job guidance for professionals at any stage of their career.