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Flying High: Jobs in the Aviation Industry


Are looking for a job in the aviation industry? Here’s a little-known fact for you. On August 19th America celebrated National Aviation Day. Did you? You won't find greeting cards dedicated to this event but it’s been observed on Orville Wright’s birthday since 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed it.

A lot has changed since the Wright Brothers’ famous 12-second flight in 1903. What is it like to work in aviation today?

Outlook for the Industry

The flight industry has taken plenty of hits from terrorism, natural disasters, and skyrocketing fuel costs. It may not be your first choice when looking for an employer. But, according to the FAA, air travel is starting to bounce back after a dismal 2009, marked by fading consumer confidence. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that job prospects still look good for pilots, engineers, and flight attendants.

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On the Ground

Ground Crew: Kathy Sweeney, a resume writing professional who spent 16 years in the airline business, has observed a particular uptick in demand for “front-line” employees working for an airline or at a Fixed Base Operator (FBO), that is a commercial business granted rights at different airports to provide aviation services including fueling, parking and tying-down aircraft, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, etc.

Though ground crew positions typically don’t require college degrees, Sweeney says candidates must pass drug screenings, FBI background checks and / or security clearances to be on airport grounds. “As a customer service or reservations agent, computer knowledge, a great customer-service attitude, and the ability to handle stressful situations and multitask are very important skills,” says Sweeney, adding that being bilingual is a plus. According to PayScale data, airline reservations agents with five years experience can expect to earn a median annual income of $33,780.

Ramp Agents: Ramp agents who work directing aircraft into and out of the gate or ramp area, hooking up and disconnecting ground power, loading and unloading luggage, and dumping the lavatories typically earn an hourly wage of over $11 per hour, according to PayScale.

Up in the Air

Flight Attendants: Sweeney has also noticed increased demand for flight attendant jobs at both commercial and corporate aviation companies. Competition for these positions can be stiff, she cautions, and candidates must complete a certification course as well as “a very brutal, 4-6 week training program that is often unpaid,” says Sweeney. Flight attendants must also be prepared to handle emergency situations, including aircraft evacuations and medical situations. Annual compensation for these positions is about $34,000 per year, not including profit sharing, bonuses and of course, free flights.

Pilots: Thanks to the more widespread use of regional jets – typically those smaller planes that carry less than 100 passengers for shorter runs between smaller cities – thousands of entry-level pilots are being recruited. Contrary to popular belief, Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and author, maintains there is no shortage of pilots, but there is a shortage of applicants who are properly qualified. “To fill those slots, airlines have been steadily reducing their minimum requirements, and it’s not uncommon to be hired with a few hundred hours and a smidgen of multiengine time into the copilot seat of a $20 million aircraft,” says Smith.

Smith says flying for a regional used to be considered a step on the way to a career at a major airline. “That progression is even more of a gamble,” he asserts as pay rates are not as competitive. So it’s no wonder that commercial pilots on major airlines with more than five years experience earn an average of $97,300 for their expertise and those positions are increasingly hard to come by.

Corporate jet pilots can also earn as much at $79,100 with the same level of experience, while helicopter pilots and flight engineers (co-captains) can make $65,100 and $66,700, respectively.

Still interested in taking the 30,000 foot view of employment in the aviation industry? Here is a quick look at some other positions and what they pay, according to

Job Title

Median Annual/Hourly Pay


Aircraft Test Pilot


Flight Test Engineer


Project Engineer, Aviation/Aerospace


Aerospace Engineer


Avionics Engineer


Air Traffic Controller


Aeronautical Engineer


Engineer Aerodynamics


Airport Manager


Flight Dispatcher


Flight Mechanic


Aircraft Pilot, Corporate Non-Jet


Aircraft Electrician


Aircrew Scheduler


Commercial Pilot, Non-Jet


Aircraft Body Repairer


Airplane Inspector

$25/per hour

Avionics Technician

$24/per hour

Aircraft Interior Technician

$21/per hour

Source: All salary data is provided by Salaries listed are median, annual salaries or median, hourly rates for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience. Salaries listed include all bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

Matt Schneider
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