Aviation Schools and Related Careers

Professional training for aircraft pilots and mechanics

An aviation school is the only destination for those whose career goals involve soaring above the clouds in control of a helicopter or airplane, or keeping flyers safe through maintenance, repairs or air traffic control.

How long will it take?

Aviation schools offer programs for pilots, aircraft mechanics and air traffic controllers. Becoming a beginner level pilot can take as little as six to eight weeks with students taking part in training that might constitute 120 flight hours, 40 ground hours and 30 briefing hours. It can take more than six months of schooling to qualify for an entry-level position at a commercial airline. Pilots learn in classrooms and on flight simulators before taking to the air. They are taught how to perform safe takeoffs and landings and emergency action in the case of situations such as engine failure.

Programs typically offered at aviation schools:

Aircraft mechanic - To become an aircraft mechanic, which can take the form of a power plant or airframe certificate, one must acquire 18 months of practical experience working with power plants (the engine) or airframes (the body), 30 months experience working with both at the same time, or complete an FAA-approved aviation maintenance technician program. Aviation technician schools offer programs that last one to two years. The final step is successful completion of oral, practical and written tests which must be passed in a 24-month timeframe. The FAA then issues a certificate for one or both specialties.

Aircraft pilot – All pilots require medical certification, for which costs vary by doctor. Airline transport pilots (moving passengers) require a first-class certificate valid for six months, while commercial pilots' certificates are valid for one year and private pilots' for two. Medical conditions like bipolar disorder, substance abuse or epilepsy disqualify candidates from becoming pilots. Pilot licenses can be as basic as student (solo flights for training purposes), recreational (50 nautical mile solo flight limit, only daytime flights) or private (no solo flight limit). The next step up includes licenses for pilots transporting cargo, testing planes or flying crop sprayers. These require a commercial license and often experience with aircrafts used by the company. Helicopter pilots can become involved in police and rescue work as well as traffic reporting.

In the U.S. it takes over 1,500 flight hours (including nighttime and instrument-only flying experience) and a minimum age of 23 for pilots to apply for an airline transport pilot's license. Many airline transport pilots start out as flight instructors or in air transportation jobs before moving up to become corporate pilots or getting a job with the airlines. While the employment outlook for pilots is good, few ever make it to jobs with the major airlines.

Air traffic controller - Anyone wanting to be an air traffic controller must first apply for a posted job and pass a pre-employment test that measures his or her ability to learn the air traffic controller duties. Applicants must be under the age of 31 and have three years work experience or four years of college, although some flight experience can be substituted. Other job prerequisites include security clearance, medical exams and drug screening. The three months of job training takes place at an FAA academy.

Flight attendant - Most airlines provide their own flight attendant training but some hopefuls choose to take courses to prepare in advance. A school offering good preparation can increase hiring chances but poor training may do the opposite. It's a good idea to check with airlines and see if they recommend taking any preparatory courses. Airlines look for flight attendants with college degrees, particularly ones that involve the study of social science, such as psychology or education. Fluency in additional languages can be an asset. Training through the airline often lasts up to two months.

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