In this article, we look at the necessary steps required to become an engineer in the aviation industry.
Recent labour market data shows that aviation engineers can earn between £20k-£35k a year on average in the United Kingdom. Salaries differ based on experience, training or location and will increase based on experience and capability.
The UK aviation industry employs over 250,000 people and has an annual turnover in excess of £18 billion.
Below, you can see more in-depth job overviews for various engineering roles in the aviation industry.
Any individual considering a career as an aviation engineer usually needs to have 5 GCSEs (grades 9-4 or A-C) as well as 3 A-Levels which include maths or science, or a comparable BTEC qualification.
The above qualifications would then allow entry to a university degree in aeronautical engineering, or similar. Many universities offer aviation engineering courses and being accepted at top universities has become quite competitive.
It is possible to gain employment as an aerospace engineer even if you haven’t completed a degree in aviation itself, some relatable courses include:
- Electrical/ Electronics Engineering
- Manufacturing Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Physics/Applied Physics
- Software Engineering
Once graduated, most engineers are required to professionally register as either an incorporated or chartered engineer, this would then allow individuals to apply for jobs almost anywhere in the world.
Completing a university degree isn’t the only way a person can pursue a career in aviation engineering. Many engineers start out as apprentices with more and more airlines offering training schemes.
You can find apprenticeships by directly approaching companies such as; airline operators, airline manufacturers and engineering companies. These training schemes allow a young person to work towards their engineering license (known as a Part 66), once this has been obtained you are officially a qualified engineer.
Qualified engineers then have the option to pursue their career at the company which has provided the training, look for new opportunities at different companies or continue their training at university.
Apprenticeships usually appeal to people who do not want to attend college, or university and prefer to learn in a practical environment.
If you have gone down the further education route then some work experience is usually essential before landing your first, permanent role. Gaining pre-entry experience prepares you for working life and shows employers that you can put your knowledge into practice.
Many university degrees offer sandwich placements, allowing students to work for 6 months, to a year at participating companies – this usually occurs before the final year of the course.
Post-graduate training schemes are also growing in popularity and are available at large aviation firms and companies partnered with the university. Opportunities such as this are not available at smaller firms who lack comparable resources, these sort of companies tend to conduct their training on the job, supervised by an experienced member of staff.
It is possible to gain experience via a summer or vacation placement but it is advised to contact major aviation companies well before your intended start date as competition will be high and places will be limited. Work experience at non-aviation related engineering companies can also be beneficial and these sort of placements are likely to be in greater supply.
All experience is valuable so if you are struggling to get accepted on a placement then writing to companies and requesting to shadow an engineer for a day, or a week shows initiative and enthusiasm.
Volunteers do not necessarily need to apply to engineering companies to impress potential employers, graduates can still gain industry knowledge and applicable skills by volunteering at organisations such as; airfields, airports, aircraft related museums and flying clubs.
Further qualifications and certifications
Once a degree has been completed, a graduate with a 2:1 grade or above has the option to further their education with a Postgraduate degree, or a Masters. A graduate with less than a 2:1 grade may find it difficult to get accepted on postgraduate courses at a lot of universities.
Completing a masters is a sensible choice if you have completed your first degree in an unrelated subject.
It is also worth noting that these courses are largely self-funded, although some universities offer a discount if you have already completed a degree with them. It is also much easier to achieve incorporated or chartered engineer status if you have been accredited by a professional body such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS).
You can find a list of accredited courses at Engineering Council – Accredited Course Search.
A Higher National Diploma will not be enough to enroll on most aeronautical university courses but would allow an individual to enter the industry at technician level, or be accepted on one of the training schemes mentioned earlier.
Once in employment, an engineer can choose to work towards incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer status if they haven’t previously done so. This status is internationally recognised and is accredited by the Engineering Council – these qualifications allow an engineer to progress their career and command a better salary.
To reiterate, Chartered or Incorporated engineers must become a member of a professional institution such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS).
In order to do so, engineers must show a certain level of competence and experience. Gaining membership status could involve the completion of a Postgraduate Degree, a project management course, individual training courses or a self-initiated report.
Qualified engineers must stay on top of industry changes and pay attention to key developments – being a member of a professional body can help with this as institutions such as the RAeS provide on-going training, regular conferences and specialist groups which focus on professional development.
Many aviation companies also enroll their staff on short courses, both internal and external to help meet any specific training needs or to train staff on new equipment or technology.
Average salaries for engineers
Below you can see the average salaries for various engineering roles within the aviation and aerospace industry, according to 2019 Aviation Job Search data:
- Overall average salary for engineers according to our 2019 data: £53,955.55
- Aerodynamics Engineer average salary: £47,232.49
- Aeronautical Engineer average salary: £49,331.55
- Airworthiness Engineer average salary: £54,542.68
- Avionics Engineer average salary: £41,392.35
- B1 Licensed Engineer average salary: £60,012.61
- B2 Licensed Engineer average salary: £57,241.944
- Chemical Engineer average salary: £45,000.00
- Design Engineer average salary: £53,694.69
- Electronic Engineer average salary: £57,973.93
- Flight Engineer average salary: £60,277.78
- Hardware Engineer average salary: £92,071.43
- Human Factors Engineer average salary: £69,500.00
- Mechanical Engineer average salary: £40,969.39
- Planning and Project Engineer average salary: £45,261.19
- Process Engineer average salary: £42,934.79
- Quality and Assurance Engineer average salary: £44,217.56
- Safety Engineer average salary: £52,548.08
- Software Engineer average salary: £77,990.65
- Structures and Stress Engineer average salary: £55,975.61
- Systems Engineer average salary: £77,809.63
- Test Engineer average salary: £60,673.08
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