Aeronautics Careers

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By Christina Payne

Published on October 22, 2020

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Students of aeronautics explore the design, theory, and mechanics of air flight. Aeronautics careers offer traditional careers in aviation, including roles as engineers and pilots. However, the field also includes the study of the atmosphere and rocket science.

Below, you can find helpful information about careers in aeronautics, including potential salaries, career paths, and opportunities for advancement.

Why Pursue a Degree in Aeronautics?

Careers with an aeronautics degree require a love for the science of flight. Some careers for an aeronautics major take place indoors or in an office setting, such as aerospace engineer. Careers like this require excellent organizational skills and a keen eye for detail. These roles typically rely on advanced mathematics.

Other aeronautics careers, such as airline or commercial pilot, require long hours and traveling on a regular basis. These professionals must be dedicated to safety and service and possess rigorous knowledge of their aircraft. Pilots must perform well under pressure and assess risks quickly and accurately.

Aeronautics Career Outlook

Different careers see different salary potential and growth. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that aerospace engineers make an annual median salary of $116,500. This position is projected to see 3% job growth from 2019-2029, which is about as fast as the national average.

By comparison, the BLS found that airline and commercial pilots make an annual median salary of $112,430. This position is projected to experience 5% job growth in the coming years. Additionally, mechanical engineers take home an annual median salary of $88,430 and are also projected to see steady growth.

The table below explores potential salary growth for several careers in aeronautics based on a worker's experience level. However, keep in mind that salaries can also change based on your level of education, employer, and location.

Median Annual Salary for Aeronautics Careers
Job Title Entry-Level (0-12 months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Midcareer (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Aerospace Engineer $69,340 $77,640 $93,210 $110,430
Mechanical Engineer $62,760 $68,370 $79,740 $90,980
Pilot N/A $70,640 $99,980 $121,920
Aircraft Mechanic/Service Technician $41,120 $42,020 $48,530 $61,310

Source: PayScale

Skills Gained With an Aeronautics Degree

Academic programs in aeronautical science and engineering provide students with the fundamental skills needed for career entry and advancement. Through classroom instruction, candidates delve into topics like 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 can expand their skill set further by earning industry-specific certificates .

Integrative Communication

All professionals should learn to communicate clearly in oral, written, and multimedia formats. Integrative communication is 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 area of expertise — particularly for learners who want to pursue careers in academics or aerospace engineering — relates to research methodologies. Students learn to conduct basic scientific inquiry within the context of aviation. They also 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.

Aeronautics

Aeronautics concerns the entirety of flight and the 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.

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 particularly important for students who want to be aerospace engineers and technicians.

Aeronautics Career Paths

Aerospace Engineering

Aspiring aerospace engineers learn to design and construct spacecraft and aircraft. Coursework covers topics like solar and space physics, compressible flow and propulsion, and atmospheric flight mechanics. Students who want to work as licensed engineers may find this pathway especially attractive. It is also an important focus for mechanics and professionals who want to work in the aviation manufacturing industry.

Professional Flight

This career path trains learners to become commercial airline pilots. Some schools also offer specialized military training tracks for those seeking 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. Students pursuing this concentration learn about 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 career path for aviation mechanics and safety experts, maintenance technology coursework teaches students to maintain the power plant and airframe of an airplane. Classes cover metallic and composite aircraft 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 the FAA mechanic's certificate exam.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operations

This relatively new path trains students to build, inspect, and operate drones and other unmanned aircraft. 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.

How to Start Your Career in Aeronautics

The path toward most professions in aeronautics begins with earning a postsecondary education. Colleges offer aeronautics degrees at all levels, from an associate degree to a doctorate.

Each aeronautics degree offers different opportunities, but most entry-level careers in this field require a bachelor's degree or higher. Be sure to research specific career requirements to determine your optimal educational path.

Below, you can learn more about different aeronautics degrees and how various education levels align with different career opportunities.

Associate Degree in Aeronautics

An associate degree typically takes two years for a full-time student to complete, though learners can graduate more quickly if they have transfer credits or join an accelerated program.

An associate degree in aeronautics teaches students the basics of this field, introducing topics such as aeronautical science, aviation legislation, and statistics with aviation applications.

Graduates from a two-year program can continue on to a four-year university. Many colleges allow students to apply all credits earned in an accredited associate program toward their bachelor's degree.

Graduates can also find entry-level positions in aeronautics with an associate degree. The table below describes potential jobs for professionals with an aeronautics associate degree.

What Can You Do With an Associate in Aeronautics

Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians operate and maintain equipment used for flying aircraft or spacecraft. These professionals can work in the testing and development stage or on fully developed aircraft. Many technicians must know how to run computer simulations and operate/maintain advanced robotics. These professionals often collaborate with aerospace engineers.

Salary: $66,020

Air Traffic Controller location-marker

Air traffic controllers work at airports, coordinating takeoffs and landings of airplanes on runways. This job ensures the safe arrival and departure of flights. Air traffic controllers direct traffic coming from the air as well as traffic for ground crews, allowing maintenance to take place on the runway in a safe and orderly fashion.

Salary: $122,990

Drafter

Drafters use computer software to turn aerospace engineering designs into technical drawings or models. These professionals collaborate closely with engineers to understand the correct specifications, materials, procedures, and design of a product. Drafters may build computer models from rough sketches or even descriptions of a product.

Salary: $56,830

Source: BLS

Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautics

A bachelor's degree in aeronautics typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. Students who transfer with a completed associate degree or with other completed credit can finish their degree in significantly less time.

Students who earn a bachelor's degree in aeronautics learn about the fundamentals of aeronautical science. They may also be able to specialize their knowledge by pursuing a concentration in aviation or aerospace. Class topics may include aerospace computing, flight dynamics, aviation meteorology, and aerodynamics.

Bachelor's degree programs allow students to pursue entry-level careers that require more specialized training or knowledge, such as aerospace engineering. Graduates can also use their bachelor's degree as a stepping stone toward graduate study.

You can find more information about aeronautics bachelor's degree programs here. Additionally, the table below explores potential careers in aeronautics with a bachelor's degree.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Aeronautics?

Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers design and test aircraft and spacecraft for commercial and military use. They may also design satellites and missiles. These professionals sometimes follow aircraft through every stage of development, from proposal analysis to design to testing to manufacturing. However, most aerospace engineers only oversee one particular element of a design.

Salary: $116,500

Airline or Commercial Pilot

Airline and commercial pilots fly airplanes and other aircraft, including helicopters. This profession requires additional licensing and training beyond a bachelor's degree. Pilots must check the condition of a plane before takeoff and monitor all major systems while in flight. These professionals take responsibility for the craft, crew, and passengers while in the air.

Salary: $121,430

Aerospace Systems Engineer

An aerospace systems engineer designs, tests, and implements the interior components of an aircraft or spacecraft. These engineers can specialize in areas like propulsion or guidance systems. They can also help with production, particularly as it relates to their area of expertise. These professionals mostly work as part of a team for an engineering firm.

Salary: $81,290

Software Engineer

Software engineers develop the software for any computerized systems in aircraft, spacecraft, or other vehicles. These engineers may work closely with professionals who design the physical components that house their software to ensure a seamless installation. Software engineers must run rigorous tests to ensure their programs work without error.

Salary: $86,220

Sources: BLS and PayScale

Master's Degree in Aeronautics

A master's degree in aeronautics typically takes 18-24 for full-time students. Most master's degrees require a thesis or capstone project with original research and experimentation.

Master's programs delve deeper into aeronautics and aerospace, exploring higher-level mathematics and scientific concepts. Sample classes include project management in aviation and aerospace, airport operations and management, applications in crew resource management, and current research problems in the field.

Graduates with a master's degree can pursue careers in aeronautics management or ascend into senior levels of their teams.

Some companies may help their employees earn a master's by offering financial assistance. Be sure to check with your employer to see what kind of aid they might offer.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Aeronautics?

Senior Systems Engineer

A senior systems engineer can take on more design and production work than a typical systems engineer. These professionals often oversee maintenance of servers and data storage. Senior systems engineers lead projects and manage teams of other engineers, including other systems engineers. These professionals need excellent communication and organization skills.

Salary: $106,550

Program Manager

Program managers in aviation and aerospace prepare project proposals and oversee large or small teams of aeronautics professionals, including designers, engineers, and technicians. Program managers need a fundamental understanding of the technical aspects of their projects to better allocate time and resources. These professionals must balance priorities and manage employees.

Salary: $113,160

Architectural and Engineering Manager

These managers coordinate and direct employees at engineering or architectural firms. In aeronautics, these professionals might oversee aerospace engineers to ensure that the company's time and resources are applied efficiently, while checking work for accuracy and quality. They also take charge of hiring new personnel and conducting interviews. Many employers prefer to hire master's degree-holders for these managerial roles.

Salary: $144,830

Senior Aerospace Engineer

Senior aerospace engineers share many of the duties of junior aerospace engineers. They review project proposals and help design elements of an aircraft or spacecraft. However, senior aerospace engineers take on a more managerial role, overseeing the work of less experienced engineers and helping coordinate with other teams on different aspects of projects.

Salary: $107,480

Sources: BLS and PayScale

Doctoral Degree in Aeronautics

A doctoral degree usually takes a full-time student 4-6 years to complete. These degrees require intensive, high-level coursework and an original research project. The latter culminates in a dissertation that students must defend to a panel of professors.

Doctoral candidates typically choose one specialization area on which to focus their studies. Potential concentrations include aviation safety, aviation operation, and aerospace engineering.

Students pursuing a doctoral degree work closely with an academic advisor. Even after students complete their research, it can still take many months to prepare their dissertation.

Doctoral degrees prepare graduates for prestigious and lucrative careers, including executive and academic roles.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Aeronautics?

Vice President of Engineering

Vice presidents of engineering combine technical know-how with business acumen. They must understand how to run a company successfully while ensuring that their employees pursue viable, profitable projects. These professionals take responsibility for the quality and output of the engineering department in a company. They need a keen eye for detail and strong organizational skills.

Salary: $170,450

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers design and teach curriculum at a college level. They also conduct their own research and publish scholarly works while assisting students with their research projects.

Salary: $79,540

Sources: BLS and PayScale

How to Advance Your Career in Aeronautics

Moving forward in a career in aeronautics often requires more than simply earning the requisite degree, accruing experience, and completing the required training for the job.

In the following sections, you can explore some of the different ways to advance your career, such as by earning certification or licensure, engaging in continuing education, and networking.

Keep in mind that different careers require different methods of advancement. Professionals seeking a promotion should conduct research or speak with their employers to find out their best options for advancement.

Certifications and/or Licensure

Some aeronautics professionals earn certification or licensure to advance their careers.

Certification typically comes from a professional organization. Professionals may need to complete educational requirements and/or pass a test to earn their certification. These credentials prove to employers that an individual meets industry standards in their work.

For example, aerospace engineers may receive certification from the American Society for Quality — a professional organization that works to ensure quality in engineering and manufacturing.

Licensure is awarded by a government agency. Not all careers require licensure, and professionals may find different licensure specifications in different states. Earning licensure often requires earning a degree, completing continuing education courses, passing a test, and/or working under the supervision of a licensed professional for a set number of hours.

Airline and commercial pilots, for example, typically earn a private pilot license and a commercial pilot license. To earn a commercial pilot license, candidates must meet age requirements and accrue a minimum number of supervised flight hours.

Continuing Education

Professionals can advance their careers through continuing education in several ways, such as by earning a second degree, completing a certificate program, or taking additional online classes.

For some careers, professionals may need to return to school and earn another degree in order to qualify for a promotion. This costs time and money, but an advanced degree tends to lead to higher wages and greater career flexibility.

Aerospace engineers, for example, should strongly consider earning a master's or even a doctorate to gain advancement in their field.

Most colleges also offer certificate programs. These programs typically last a year or less and offer specialized training or knowledge, allowing professionals to learn about the newest trends and technologies in their industry.

Professionals can also take additional classes — particularly those covering new and emerging topics in their field. You can learn more about some free, online aeronautics courses below.

Next Steps

Students and professionals interested in careers in aeronautics should strongly consider joining a professional organization. These organizations bring together professionals, academics, and experts in a particular field to publish research and find solutions to common problems.

Professionals can join organizations like the Aerospace Industries Association or the American Astronautical Society. These organizations and others like them provide helpful resources, such as peer-reviewed research journals and workshops.

Professional organizations also provide networking opportunities for members. Networking allows professionals and students to learn about new job opportunities and make connections that can help them advance in their current careers.

Keep in mind that most professional organizations limit full access to their resources to members. Members may need to pay a fee to join an organization.

How to Switch Your Career to Aeronautics

Aeronautics encompasses a wide variety of professional roles, including engineer, pilot, and programmer. Each career path requires different levels and types of education and training.

As such, changing careers — even within the field of aeronautics — usually requires returning to college for another degree or certificate and/or undergoing rigorous on-the-job training.

For example, even though mechanical engineers may share many similar duties with aerospace engineers, mechanical engineers looking to switch into aeronautics likely need a new degree or certificate in aerospace engineering.

Even switching from aircraft mechanic to airline pilot — both careers with an aeronautics degree — requires additional education, training, and licensure.

You should always research specific career requirements or speak to a career counselor to understand your best path forward if you're interested in transitioning into a new career.

Where Can You Work With an Aeronautics Degree?

Industries

Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing

This industry consists of companies that produce 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.

Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services

This industry predominantly employs staff, senior, and principal aerospace engineers. Professionals can pursue positions in drafting firms, where they create detailed layouts of aerospace products. They may also work for testing laboratories and inspection services.

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 NASA.

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 in India, China, and the Middle East.

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.

Source: BLS

Locations

A worker's location significantly impacts their cost of living, pay, and ability to access top aeronautics careers.

BLS data shows that California boasts the highest employment level for aerospace engineers, followed by Texas, Alabama, Ohio, and Maryland. Aerospace engineers earn the highest average salaries when working in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Engineers who prefer to reside in less metropolitan areas may be interested in opportunities in Idaho or New Mexico.

Resources for Aeronautics Majors

In the following sections, you can explore different professional and educational resources available to aeronautics professionals and students. These resources include helpful links to relevant professional organizations, examples of free online courses covering aeronautics topics, and scholarly publications that detail aeronautics issues and research.

Professional Organizations

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Founded in 1963, AIAA supports over 30,000 individual members and almost 100 corporate members around the world. The institute maintains industry standards for research and publication. Professionals can collaborate through volunteer opportunities and technical committees. Students may access design competitions, academic scholarships, and conferences. AIAA also offers online education resources, expert career guidance, and job postings.


IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society: AESS funds research initiatives in 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.


Association For Unmanned Vehicle Systems International: AUVSI represents members who work in civil, defense, and commercial industries in over 60 countries. 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.


Helicopter Association International: For over 70 years, HAI has advanced the helicopter flight industry through public policy advocacy and professional development efforts. Pilots can search for jobs and network with peers and industry partners online. They may also pursue skill development, including safety accreditation certification. Furthermore, the association offers individual guidance for military personnel who want to transition into a civilian career.


Royal Aeronautical Society: Founded in 1866, 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 professional development opportunities online and through regional partner organizations. RAeS also provides comprehensive job guidance for professionals at any stage of their career.

Open Courseware

Intelligent Machining - University at Buffalo: This 11-hour course explores the emergence of self-aware machinery that is capable of making decisions related to machine activity processes, which can lead to increased productivity. Students learn about the background, tools, and terminology needed to understand and implement intelligent machining.


Fundamentals of Macroscopic and Microscopic Thermodynamics - University of Colorado Boulder: This nine-hour course teaches students the basics of thermodynamics from macroscopic and microscopic perspectives. Students explore the meaning of temperature, pressure, and chemical potential as they relate to thermodynamics. Part one of a five-part series, this class explains the fundamentals of molecular quantum states.


Design of Experiments - Arizona State University: This four-month class teaches students to plan, design, and carry out experiments using empirical methods. The course shows students experimental design tools for deterministic and stochastic computer models and teaches students how to analyze and interpret the data they collect.


Spacecraft Dynamics and Control - University of Colorado Boulder: This five-month class covers three main areas: kinematics, kinetics, and control. Students learn to apply transport theorems to different vectors and translate between sets of attitude descriptors. This class also teaches the Lyapunov method of stability and convergence.

Publications

AIAA Journal: Since its inception in 1963, this journal has explored theories and technologies in the fields of aeronautics and astronautics. The publication discusses topics such as aerodynamics, aeroacoustics, fundamentals of propulsion, and fluid mechanics and reacting flows. Readers can also learn about research instrumentation and facilities. This journal accepts the submission of recent research papers on any of the above topics or other issues relating to aeronautics.


Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics: This journal discusses topics related to guidance, control, and dynamics and how they impact the fields of aeronautics and astronautics. Readers can learn about flight control systems and exploratory developments in guidance technology. This journal publishes original research papers related to the above topics, particularly those that offer solutions to practical engineering problems.


Journal of Aerospace Information Systems: This publication delves into aerospace computing, information, and network and computing systems. Readers explore topics related to theoretical and practical developments in aerospace computing, such as software engineering and uncertainty quantification. This journal publishes original research papers and is most interested in articles about autonomous systems or systems engineering principles. The publication also desires papers that test and analyze the results of recent research in the field.


Journal of Propulsion and Power: JPP publishes research about propulsion and power systems in aeronautics. Key topics include power generation and conversion for aerospace vehicles, the application of aerospace science and technology to terrestrial energy devices, and fuels and propellants. Readers can discover new information about propulsion and power in aeronautics at all levels of development, from research to implementation.


Journal of Aircraft: This journal examines the operation and advancement of aircraft and aircraft technology. Through original research and technical papers, this publication explores topics such as optimization of aircrafts; applied computational fluid dynamics; and the application of computers to aircraft, including artificial intelligence and expert systems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is aeronautics a good degree?

Aeronautics allows graduates to pursue career paths in aerospace, astronautics, aeronautics, and aviation. These fields offer many lucrative roles, including engineer and air traffic controller positions. Professionals can find aeronautics careers with any level of postsecondary education. Most aeronautics careers offer direct pathways to advancement.

What can you do with an aeronautics degree?

An aeronautics degree allows graduates to explore careers related to aerospace engineering and atmospheric science. Depending on their level of training, students can pursue positions as aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians and airline and commercial pilots.

What are aerospace jobs?

Aerospace covers the intersection of air and space flight. Professionals in aerospace design, build, and fly aircraft for regular flight or for spaceflight. Readers interested in aerospace can find careers that deal with the building or design of aircraft (e.g., aerospace engineer) or careers that deal with flying (e.g., airline or commercial pilot).

What is the highest-paying job with an aeronautics degree?

According to the BLS, air traffic controllers earn an annual median salary of $122,990, while airline and commercial pilots make $121,430. Additionally, aerospace engineers earn an annual median wage of $116,500. However, keep in mind that salary outlook can change based on a worker's education, experience, and location.

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