DALLAS — There are many avenues to obtaining a job in the rapidly expanding aviation industry. While some of us have the advanced degrees required for many of the positions in the aviation industry, others can pursue careers that do not require an advanced degree.
With so many resources available online, we are able to take courses or learn more about a certain area of the industry. But which are the best ones, and is there a more streamlined way to start our journey on the aviation career path?
In this post, we’ll take a look at how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has introduced a number of programs to educate younger people about career opportunities in aviation.
Ron Wagner, a former USAF pilot in the Presidential Wing at Andrews AFB, explained in an interview that the requirements to obtain a commercial license are only that the candidate be 18 years old and be able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language.
“You don’t even need a high school diploma. With just a commercial license, you might get some low-paying work flying small planes. There was a time when all of the cleared bank checks were flown overnight between central banks and that employed lots of pilots. But check clearing is all done electronically now,” Wagner said.
The USAF pilot continued, “Similarly, there used to be lots of flying jobs checking pipelines, but that may all be done by drones now. And there were flying jobs in which the pilots watched for forest fires, but that, too, is mostly done with drones, satellites, and electronic monitoring. So, there’s not much left for someone with just a commercial license to earn money as a pilot.”
He added that one could then become a certified flight instructor (CFI), which also does not require a degree, nor even a high school education. “With a CFI ticket, you could find work at flight schools for as long as you want because they are desperate now for instructors as most CFIs are moving up to airline pilot jobs. Some small airlines don’t require a college degree, so you might end up flying jets.”
FAA Job Pipeline
The FAA is working to create a robust pipeline of skilled and diverse professionals coming into the industry and the agency, where there are career fields and job opportunities that do not require an advanced degree.
These include air traffic controllers, airway transportation systems specialists, and aviation safety inspectors. Some of these fields offer entry-level opportunities, and others require previous aviation work experience. There are also job opportunities for aircraft mechanics, flight attendants, and other airline support positions in the aviation industry.
This year, the FAA awarded US$5m in grants to fund aviation maintenance technician classes at high schools. Schools that teach technical skills and explore career paths in aviation maintenance are awarded Aviation Maintenance Technical Workers Workforce Development Grants.
“The opportunities are endless with a career as an aviation maintenance technician. These awards will enable us to connect with and assist people who may not have previously had the opportunity to pursue this wonderful career,” said FAA Deputy Administrator A. Bradley Mims.
The FAA says it wants to inspire “youth from diverse backgrounds,” regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, or financial standing.
The FAA aims to ensure there are opportunities to pursue aerospace careers by creating a “consistent pipeline of professionals for a robust workforce in the future.” This includes partnerships with organizations like Women in Aviation International, Dreams Soar, the National Air and Space Museum, and the USA Science and Engineering Festival (SciFest).
According to a report by the Women in Aviation Advisory Board (WIAAB), included in its recommendations to Congress in May 2022, a mentoring app program, specifically for the aviation industry, was mentioned.
The app would mentor girls in middle and high school, with a focus on female aviation professionals. These professionals serve as important role models and further the abilities of girls by allowing them to see similar careers as options. Mentors share insights and provide essential exposure to aviation careers and the industry.
“One-time events such as school visits or weekend camps are useful, but the effort is needed to maintain these connections over time,” the report states.
The design of this app should include a repository for customized mentoring strategies and targeted links to relevant information. Participants would benefit from the app’s resources to customize mentoring strategies based on demographics, specific roles within the industry, etc.
According to the report, the app should also address a full range of target audiences, from girls in early education to middle/high school students. Parents, educators, guidance counselors, mentors, and mentees all would benefit from aggregated content, dedicated source material, and tools.
Specific initiatives include the FAA Adopt-A-School Program, the Airport Design Challenge, the Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academies, and the Youth in Aviation Task Force.
The FAA is tasked with educating youth about career opportunities in aviation. The Youth in Aviation Task Force is tasked with providing individual recommendations and strategies to the FAA. The Task Force will also find and suggest options for student apprenticeships, workforce development programs, and careers in aviation.
These suggestions and tactics will be utilized to encourage and assist students to enroll in aviation vocational and technical education courses, with a focus on high school students in the United States. These include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as aviation production and maintenance courses.
The FAA also engages with influencers on social media who can reach younger people. Last year, the FAA Administrator interviewed a Tik Tok influencer, who just happens to be a female pilot in her 20s, in one of the FAA’s podcast episodes. She was inspired to become a pilot through Instagram.
The FAA also serves on the Equity Task Force led by the Department of Transportation in support of the President’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government.
Youth in Aviation Task Force: This task force is comprised of aviation leaders from industry and academia that are charged with providing independent recommendations and strategies to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to educate youth on career opportunities in aviation.
In addition, the Task Force identifies and recommends opportunities for apprenticeships, workforce-development programs, and careers in aviation for students.
FAA Adopt-A-School Program: This program started in 2021 and focuses on reaching students in underserved and underrepresented areas to introduce them to aviation and aerospace concepts and careers. FAA collaborates with individual schools to provide STEM curricula to students.
The curriculum features six lessons focusing on advancing aerospace career awareness and supporting STEM literacy skills, i.e. creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and inquiry. Lessons will be aligned to next-generation science standards, be approximately sixty minutes in length, and be available to be delivered virtually or in person.
The schools participating in the program last year were Atoka Elementary School in Atoka, Oklahoma, Michelle Obama Elementary School in Panorama City, California, Midway Elementary School in Des Moines, Washington; and Spring Hill Elementary School in Fayetteville, Georgia.
The FAA Airport Design Challenge: This is an annual competition for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) K–12 students where they have the opportunity to meet aviation professionals and learn about the aerospace industry and STEM concepts and careers.
The challenge consists of using Microsoft’s Minecraft to design virtual airports based on guidance from FAA aerospace and engineering experts.
Students collaborate in small teams, learn about their local airports, and complete developmental tasks within the block-building game. During the five weeks of organized lesson plans, participants will cover topics ranging from airport layout, pavement, and lighting to structures and innovative growth.
Program facilitators will use weekly knowledge-check quizzes and screenshots of students’ designs to assess progress and provide feedback. The last round of this challenge had an overwhelming response with nearly 3,000 K–12 students from 18 countries including all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands entering designs.
Some of the projects included actual FAA air traffic control tower-to-aircraft communication, swimming pools in the terminal, walk-through sanitation stations, and environmental sustainability concepts.
ACE Academies: These academies provide unique summer aviation education programs for elementary, middle, and high school students who are interested in aviation and aerospace.
Cosponsored by the FAA and various other host organizations, the academies provide students with a wide range of aviation career exploration experiences that focus on STEM. The academies reach 1,500–2,000 students each summer.
These programs give students lessons in flight planning, aviation history, and the physics of flight; field trips to aviation-related sites; instruction on aircraft design and maintenance; and the opportunity to participate in flight simulations and, in some locations, flights in aircraft.
2022 U.S. camps are available on the ACE website, and additional locations are being added regularly.
Entering the Aviation Workforce
Airlines for America (A4A) member airlines offer well-paying, quality jobs and careers across the U.S. Aviation maintenance technicians, pilots, ramp and cargo agents, dispatchers, gate agents, customer service representatives, meteorologists, flight attendants, and administrative professionals, all work together to ensure a successful airline operation.
According to the most recent Bureau of Transportation Statistics data, the airline industry in the United States employed a record number of people in September 2022. More than 777,000 individuals are employed worldwide by U.S. passenger and cargo airlines. These hundreds of thousands of workers are the backbone of the industry.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), air transportation workers (including both passenger and cargo-only airlines) earned wages 37% higher than the average private sector employee in 2021.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), in the first quarter of 2022, the average annual wage for a U.S. passenger airline employee exceeded US$99,000, almost double what it was in 2000. Furthermore, the average benefits package for a passenger airline employee in the United States exceeded US$24,000.
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Featured image: Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. Pope Field Air Traffic Control Tower. Photo: USAF Photo/TSgt P. R. Miller/Public Domain. Article sources: FAA, Women In Aviation, and Airlines for America