“It isn’t rocket science” is a common phrase – but, in aircraft engineering, it can be.
An Aircraft Engineer is also known as an aeronautical engineer, helicopter engineer, or aerospace engineer. They all mean the same thing. This job is a person who designs, tests, builds and maintains planes, spacecraft and satellites.
Aircraft engineers are in-demand professionals working in a highly specialised industry. Because of the importance of their role, working in this field can be a rewarding career choice – and build for a life-long career.
What Does an Aircraft Engineer Do
The work of an aircraft engineer is to design, test, build and maintain planes, spacecraft and satellites. The type of work they will undertake will most likely include:
- Developing navigation, communications or weapons systems.
- Working on ways to make individual parts of an aircraft. For example, you can work specifically on wings, the main body of the aircraft and engines fuel efficient and more aerodynamic.
- Using computer-aided design (CAD) software.
- Testing prototypes and collecting and analysing data.
- Drafting technical reports.
- Planning and supervising the fitting of aircraft and components.
- Planning and supervising the maintenance of aircraft and components.
Senior aircraft engineers will also estimate the costs and timescales of a project. If you are in this sort of role you are likely, for example, to have responsibility for signing off projects to regulation. Additionally, you might have responsibility for ensuring health and safety standards are kept to.
Who Employs Aircraft Engineers
Aircraft engineers are mostly employed by large multinational companies. You will know many of these as they are household names.
Job Salary for an Aircraft Engineer
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary for an aircraft engineer places the starting wage at £25,000. This can rise to £52,000 for experienced aircraft engineers.
Another source estimates the average Aircraft Engineer’s salary in the UK to be £40,756.29. This is based on a recorded minimum of £22,000 and a maximum salary of £78,000.
Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage (which must be paid to people aged 23 and over) means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year.
As with other jobs, there are significant regional differences in the salary of an Aircraft Engineer in different parts of the UK. Aircraft engineers in London and the South East of England are, like other professions, paid more than in other parts of the UK.
There will also be large differences in salary for aircraft engineers depending on the type of institution where you are located. Large multinational firms will generally pay more than small ones.
How Often is an Aircraft Engineer Normally Paid
Aircraft engineers can normally expect to be paid a salary every month.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for an Aircraft Engineer
Aircraft Engineers working for someone else will be hired at a set salary. Trade unions in large plants will play a role in negotiating overall wage levels in the industry.
What Sort of Contracts Do Aircraft Engineers Have
Aircraft engineers will usually have a fixed contract with clear rates of pay, working hours and a specific job description.
Earning Potential of an Aircraft Engineer
Senior aircraft engineers who work in specialised areas can expect to earn over £50,000. Some Aircraft Engineers specialise in an area, such as aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, space technology or even investigating air accidents. Specialisms usually come with a greater salary.
Even junior aircraft engineers can make an additional income by doing overtime with their companies.
How to Become an Aircraft Engineer
There are five main routes to becoming an aircraft engineer:
- Working towards this role within a firm is possible, especially since this is an emerging and dynamic area of work. You may be able to start as an assistant and then be trained on the job.
- Applying directly to a company is another option. If you want to apply directly for jobs you’ll usually need some qualifications that demonstrate your skills and aptitude for this type of work. This can sometimes be experience-based, including working in mechanical, electrical or electronics engineering.
- Undertaking a university degree.
- Following a college course.
- Taking an appropriate apprenticeship.
Qualifications/Courses – Aircraft Engineer
Larger employers may ask for a relevant university degree. To get into university to study these sorts of subjects you will normally need 2 or 3 A-Levels. A degree normally takes three years to complete. The most relevant and sought-after degree subjects are aerospace engineering, avionics, electrical or electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, manufacturing or product engineering, physics or applied physics, software engineering or mathematics. Some major industry employers have created their own degrees in which they combine theoretical teaching with skill training and work placements.
Some senior aircraft engineers may also have a postgraduate degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering. You will need a university degree to do this.
Another route into the profession is to do a higher national certificate (HNC) or diploma (HND) in engineering before you apply for a technician-level job with an aerospace company. The general entry requirements are 1 or 2 A levels, or a level 3 diploma. If you choose this option, to become a fully qualified engineer, you would then need to do more training.
You can also take an apprenticeship route. This will be done by combining learning in the workplace with studying for a degree at an approved university. Some major industry employers have shaped their own apprenticeships. They have made these to combine theoretical teaching with skill training and work placements. The five most relevant apprenticeships are:
- Aerospace Engineer Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship.
- Electro-mechanical Engineer Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship.
- Materials Science Technologist Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship.
- Materials Process Engineer Level 7 Degree Apprenticeship.
- Power and Propulsion Gas Turbine Engineer Level 7 Degree Apprenticeship.
General Skills Required
- You will need good listening skills and analytical skills.
- To be a successful aircraft engineer you must be thorough and pay attention to detail.
- A positive attitude to problem-solving is needed to be a successful aircraft engineer, and you will also need persistence and determination.
- You need to have empathy and patience when dealing with people you are working with who do not have your level of expertise in engineering.
- You must be a good team player and have the ability to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in engineering.
- The ability to monitor your own performance and that of your colleagues is an asset.
- Some aircraft engineers work alone rather than as part of a team. In those cases, the ability to work alone, using your initiative, is very important. You need to have a proactive mindset.
- A good memory is helpful since the work can often be repetitive and it is important not to lose track during complex engineering work.
- Strong communication skills to explain concepts and solutions in a way non-engineering specialists can understand. This also applies to maintaining correspondence when monitoring a project and in presenting solutions and results.
- You must be self-disciplined and be able to follow rules and health and safety instructions.
- A driving licence will be an advantage if you work in different locations as an aircraft engineer.
Specific Engineering and Technical Skills of an Aircraft Engineer
- Leadership qualities within a team will be needed by you if you are an aircraft engineer. This includes being capable of delegating tasks, keeping staff focused and making sure you are confident that all members understand the shared common goal.
- You will need a deep knowledge of engineering science and technology. Additionally, you will need to understand physics. Engineers also need design skills and knowledge.
- Many engineers are particularly skilled in testing prototypes and collecting and analysing data.
- You will need to be able to contribute to making individual parts like wings, the main body of the aircraft and engines fuel efficient and more aerodynamic.
- Some aircraft engineers are engaged in drafting technical reports.
- Organisation and time management skills are always needed. This is because you need to match your workload and multiple streams of work. Above all, resourcefulness, project management, and prioritisation are needed. To do this you must incorporate workflow management and strategy planning to be a successful aircraft engineer.
- You will need a wide knowledge of the IT systems used. For example, you will need to use computer-aided design (CAD) software.
- Superb mathematical skills are particularly helpful to you in this role.
Challenges of Being an Aircraft Engineer
- Aircraft engineering is always complicated. Knowing the scope of your abilities is important. If engineering issues go beyond your scope of abilities, the appropriate action is to refer the issue to a more senior or specialised person in the team.
- Appropriate judgement is essential to identify problems and glitches. You will also need to exercise skill in every aspect of your work. For example, small mistakes can sometimes grow into big problems.
- Need for constant vigilance to get things right.
- The pressure of workload will always be a factor for you. Because of this you must keep focused to meet deadlines and deliver on time.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- You should be a methodical person with a patient outlook and the ability to deal with stress.
- Someone who is methodical, intelligent and possesses an eye for detail.
- A person who can follow rules and instructions to the letter.
- You need to be able to communicate complicated engineering concepts in a way that others can easily understand.
General Expected Working Hours
It is estimated that aircraft engineers within companies work around 37 to 40 hours a week. Because of this you can expect to work around 8 hours a day Monday to Friday between 8 am and 6 pm. Additionally, you will need to do occasional evening or weekend work. Although aircraft engineers generally work normal factory hours, clients in this industry often need aircraft engineers to be responsive to demand to meet deadlines. This can mean you can need to work extra hours, so you may need to adapt your hours to your client.
Location of Work
Aircraft Engineers are usually employed by companies. Doing this will mean you will work in a factory or on an aircraft or in an aircraft hangar.
Aircraft Engineers have a wide range of career prospects.
Some aircraft engineers specialise in an area. This could be aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, space technology or even investigating air accidents. If you become a specialist, the job will usually come with a greater salary.
Promotion opportunities also exist within large companies. For example, you could become a project manager or consultant aerospace engineer.