Professionals in airplane design create vehicles that fly efficiently and are profitable to make. They must take the safety of passengers and government standards into account. These professionals earn their salaries by working primarily from offices, where they plan their creations. However, they also travel to airfields to test prototypes and to factory floors to handle production problems. Airplane design involves more than just drawing plans that production staff can understand. Professionals must also test their aircraft through simulations and models, and oversee their production. They may specialize in particular planes, such as combat jets or commercial airlines, or systems, such as navigation or control. Big employers include aerospace manufacturers, engineering consulting services, scientific research services and the federal government.
Aerospace engineers are the chief experts in airplane design. They earned a mean $103,870, with an annual range from below $65,310 to above $147,810. Rates are according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2011. Aerospace pay exceeded the $77,120 yearly mean for all engineering specialties. It was also more than twice the national average of $45,230 for all workers in the country.
Pay for the profession was highest around the nation’s capital. Among states, Virginia topped the salary list with a yearly average of $123,980. Among cities, Bethesda, Md., ranked first, with mean compensation of $148,140 per year. The nation’s capital was also near the top. Classified as a state, the District of Columbia showed mean yearly compensation of $123,980. Washington, D.C., averaged an annual wage of $127,320. Defense and other government contractors were responsible for the high compensation. Aerospace defense giant Lockheed Martin is just one example of a company located in the area. Compare these wages with the ones in the lowest-paying state, Wisconsin, averaging $67,210 per year, and the lowest-paying metro area, Miami, at a mean annual $53,220.
Employers demand at least a bachelor’s degree for the profession. This math-heavy course of study covers computers, engineering principles, mechanics and aerodynamics. Internships are particularly valuable because they offer hands-on experience to students. A master’s degree can enhance employment and boost starting salaries by about 28 percent, according to Georgetown University. The median annual range of below $60,000 to above $115,000 for an undergraduate degree would thus become $76,800 to $147,200 for a master's degree. Although not required for entry-level jobs, a professional engineer license allows moves into management, which boasts better pay. The BLS shows mean annual wages of $122,810 for engineering managers, with an annual range of below $75,350 and above $166,400. The credential mandates an accredited education, related work experience and a passing score on two exams.
A growing population that travels by air more should increase airplane design beyond the 14 percent average predicted for all occupations. Yet, from 2010 to 2020, the BLS sees employment growing by 5 percent for the profession. This is because aerospace engineers primarily work for manufacturing industries that have been declining in recent years. Positions will come primarily in defense-related projects and the need to rebuild existing aircraft for efficiency and safety. The best prospects will go to those who are experts in collaborative engineering tools and processes. A big plus is training in Computational Fluid Dynamics software, which implements testing through digital models in simulated environments.