Aviation Employment Outlook

Professional training for pilots, mechanics and more

Although demand for air travel can increase or decrease with fluctuations in the economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the industry is not expected to enter a permanent slowdown. An aging population and more disposable income indicate leisure travel will rise in the next decade. Cargo travel is also expected to pick up, making the odds of finding a job after completing aviation school a pretty safe bet. The number of openings each year will likely fluctuate. Most jobs will be with low-fare carriers and smaller airlines.

Flight engineers and civilian aircraft pilots held over 100,000 jobs in 2004. Over 80,000 were pilots, copilots and flight engineers. The rest held commercial pilot jobs including flight instructor, transporting cargo and flying business executive planes and helicopters. Others worked as air taxi pilots out of small airports or did other work such as crop dusting or inspecting pipelines. Some pilots were self employed or worked for local, federal or state governments. Other than the obvious monetary benefits, many pilots are entitled to life and health insurance, retirement benefits, expense and uniform allowances and free or reduced-rate transportation for immediate family members.

Where pilots will find work

Growth in regional and low-fare carriers is expected to be higher than at major airlines. Jobs should also be steady in air cargo and corporate travel. The industry is expected to increase on average in the next decade, with demand expected to grow alongside population and the economy. At the same time demand for pilots can decline if the economy falters.

Airline pilots, copilots, flight engineers

  • Median annual earnings - $129,250

Commercial pilots

  • Median annual earnings - $53,870
  • Middle 50 percent - $37,170 to $79,390
  • Top 10 percent - over $110,070
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $26,300

Aircraft mechanics

The outlook for mechanics is considered excellent, due to retirements and fewer military entrants. Initial jobs prospects will be with small airlines but more experience can lead to work with competitive major airlines.

  • Median annual earnings air transportation - $54,890
  • Median annual earnings all industries - $45,290

Air traffic controllers

Job openings in the next decade will likely be due to current workers who are eligible for retirement. Competition for jobs remains fierce but those who complete training should have a good chance of getting hired. Layoffs during recession are also unlikely. High pay and good benefits are usual for air traffic controllers. Controllers working in higher rated facilities have more demanding jobs but receive better pay. It is a job that allows early retirement - age 50 with 20 years of service or at any age after 25 years of service. There is mandatory retirement at 56 for most controllers.

  • Median annual earnings - $102,030
  • Middle 50 percent - $78,170 to 126,260
  • Top 10 percent - over $139,210
  • Bottom 10 percent - under $57,720

Flight attendants

As with almost all air transportation industry employees, flight attendants often benefit from profit sharing, free or reduced airfare for immediate family and life and health coverage. Because of this there is a high level of competition for jobs.

  • Median annual earnings air transportation - $43,470
  • Median annual earnings all industries - $43,440

Statistics courtesy the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004