How to become an Aviation Engineer

Published: 03 Sep 2012

Aviation engineers design, develop, construct, maintain and repair aircraft. Without them, planes wouldn’t fly, or at least not for very long.

Given the complexity of modern passenger airliners, helicopters and jets, it’s hardly surprising the job of aeronautical, or aircraft engineers as they are also known, is highly technical and one that requires an understanding of very specialist areas.

As an aviation engineer you may be asked to advise on which materials and components should be used in a plane to optimise the benefits of technology against the extra costs of their introduction. Or you could be involved in the development of ever-more efficient engines and failsafe electronics systems, using state-of-the-art computer modelling tools and design techniques.

You may also be needed to help test aircraft to ensure their safety and compliance with the strictest of industry guidelines. This might involve going on test flights so you can monitor the take-off distances, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capabilities of different types of plane. In worst case scenarios, you could be called upon to play a part in major accident investigations to determine their cause.

However, to avoid such catastrophic events, aviation engineers also maintain a wide-range of aircraft, as well writing the manuals on how they and their components must be serviced in the future. This inevitably means you are part of a team that has very high levels of responsibility for the safety of a plane’s passengers and its crew.

As a more senior aviation engineer, you may also be expected to manage and meet the budgets and deadlines of very large and complex projects.

If you want to pursue a career as an aviation engineer, you will need a strong background in mathematics, chemistry and the physical sciences, and since competition for aviation jobs is fierce, this needs to be supported by a good set of A-levels in appropriate subjects.

Equipped with high academic grades, you will then need to apply to university, though not necessarily to study aeronautics at degree level, as other technical subjects are often equally acceptable. So, degrees in computer software, electronic engineering or process engineering are all good starting points. Many courses include a sandwich year that will give you the opportunity to work in the aviation industry, providing you with useful practical experience before you graduate.

Besides having a strongly technical inclination, you will also need to have a practical, but still analytical mind and be able to pay exceptional attention to detail, as well as have an ability to solve complex problems. For some aviation jobs, you may also need to have security clearance and even 20:20 vision.

Once you have graduated, your salary is likely to start at around £25,000, which will rise to about £40,000 after three to five years’ experience. As a still more senior aviation engineer, you can expect your starting salary on taking up a new position to be in the region of £60,000 and above, depending on your specialism.

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