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Types of Airline Jobs
Operating an airline requires the coordinated efforts of a diverse range of professionals. A list of airline jobs highlights the need for workers who possess a variety of talents, from customer service skills to technological abilities. The airline industry offers a mixed bag of job opportunities. Some positions provide comfortable annual salaries, while others offer low hourly rates. Technological advances and outsourcing have slowed the job prospects of some airline positions. However, airlines still offer a limited number of opportunities as workers retire, advance to higher positions, or move on to other industries.
Types of Jobs in the Airline Industry: Flight Crews
Airline pilots are responsible for delivering passengers to their destinations, maintaining punctual flight schedules, and safely operating multimillion-dollar aircraft. A pilot’s job includes much more than navigating an airplane during takeoff, flight and landing. Before a flight, a pilot must inspect the condition of the aircraft, evaluate weight and balance of cargo, file a flight plan with air traffic control, analyze weather conditions, and check vital aircraft functions such as hydraulic levels and fuel needs.
Airline pilots work closely with flight attendants to ensure the airplane is ready to take flight and passengers are safely in their seats. They rely upon flight engineers and co-pilots to help navigate the aircraft through various stages of flight.
To work as a pilot, you must pay close attention to flight instruments and air traffic and have quick reflexes and a calm demeanor to handle emergencies. Pilots must have a pleasant personality when communicating with passengers and clear speech when communicating with air traffic control.
In 2016, about 84,000 airline pilots, flight engineers and co-pilots worked in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). An additional 41,000 commercial pilots worked in industries such as air freight and aviation education.
Typically, pilots work about 225 hours per month, which includes flight time and nonflight duties. While on duty, pilots often spend nights away from home and frequently work weekends and holidays. According to federal law, pilots must retire no later than age 65.
Most airlines seek pilots who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Other requirements include a specified number of flight hours, as well as a commercial pilot’s license and an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, both issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Airlines also evaluate candidates' instrument ratings to see if they can operate an aircraft in certain weather conditions. The hiring process often includes psychological and medical examinations and a background check.
When starting a new job, airline pilots typically undergo several weeks of training to familiarize them with the type of plane they will operate. Throughout their careers, pilots attend additional training sessions, which may include classroom, flight simulator and flying exercises.
In 2017, airline pilots, flight engineers and co-pilots earned a median salary of around $137,000, according to the BLS. High earners took home more than $200,000.
The BLS projects the airline industry to add about 3 percent more pilots from now until 2026. The industry’s shift toward larger aircraft accounts for much of the slow growth in this profession.
Flight attendants attend to the needs of passengers, but they also play a vital role in maintaining order in the passenger cabin and directing passengers to safety in emergencies. They must prepare the cabin before passengers board the aircraft, inspect emergency and medical equipment, receive and store in-flight food and beverages, and discuss flight plans with pilots and fellow flight attendants.
Before takeoff, flight attendants explain and demonstrate emergency equipment to passengers and inspect the cabin for open overhead compartments or passengers with unlatched seatbelts. During flight, flight attendants serve drinks and meals and attend to passengers’ comfort needs. Flight attendants prepare for landing by retrieving food and drink items and inspect the cabin to make sure passengers comply with seat belt regulations. Upon landing, flight attendants provide passengers with connecting flight information.
In 2016 more than 116,000 flight attendants worked in the U.S. Flight attendants must spend nights out of town and work nights, weekends and holidays.
By law, flight attendants must be at least 18 years old. They must have a passport, meet height and vision requirements, and pass a drug test, background check and medical examination.
Typically, airlines seek flight attendants who have graduated high school. They might require fluency in a second language or previous experience in the service industry.
Once they are hired, flight attendants engage in several weeks of training, which includes emergency procedures, first aid, job duties and flight regulations. They must pass the training course and a written examination to receive their Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency, an FAA certification required for all flight attendants. The certification applies to a specific type of airplane, such as a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380. If a flight attendant transfers to a different type of aircraft, he retrains and receives a new certification. To maintain their certifications, flight attendants must attend an annual refresher training course.
In 2017, flight attendants earned a median salary of more than $50,000, according to the BLS. Flight attendants at the top of the pay scale took home nearly $80,000.
The need for flight attendants is projected to increase by about 10 percent through 2026.
Types of Airport Jobs: Ground Operations
Aircraft Cargo-Handling Supervisors
Aircraft cargo-handling supervisors oversee teams that load and unload baggage and freight to and from airplanes. Typically, cargo-handling teams consist of individuals who load and unload items from the cargo holds, along with crew members who operate equipment used to transport loads to and from holding areas and airplanes. Some cargo supervisors manage multiple teams that must operate simultaneously according to flight schedules.
Cargo supervisors are responsible for luggage and freight throughout the transport process, from the time a passenger checks a suitcase until she retrieves it from baggage claim at her destination. They must ensure that all checked baggage is loaded onto the proper aircraft and arrives intact and unharmed.
Some cargo supervisors also act as loadmasters. Loadmasters calculate the cubic volume and weight of baggage and freight to determine distribution in cargo holds. The task requires exceptional math skills and a clear understanding of how the load balance can affect takeoff, landing and in-flight aircraft operation. Loadmasters submit detailed cargo reports to flight crews, which show the volume and weight of cargo and the location of hazardous materials.
Cargo supervisors may work days, nights, weekends and holidays. Since airlines operate year-round, cargo supervisors and their crews must work in all types of weather, from blistering summer heat to winter snowstorms.
Typically, employers look for cargo supervisors who have completed high school. Most companies offer extensive training for cargo supervisors and their crews, which may include aircraft safety, equipment operations, and lifting and loading techniques. Cargo supervisors who serve as loadmasters typically must attend extensive training to learn the intricate details of aircraft loading.
The cargo supervisor profession likely will experience little growth, around 1 percent, from now until 2022 reports LiveCareer.
Aircraft Mechanics and Technicians
Aircraft mechanics and technicians maintain and repair aircraft electronic and mechanical components. They carry out scheduled maintenance routines and perform emergency repairs as needed.
To work as an aircraft mechanic or technician, you must have the knowledge and ability to diagnose problems, understand complex maintenance manuals and follow detailed repair procedures. The job requires you to keep meticulous repair records and follow strict maintenance schedules as required by airline companies and the FAA.
Aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians use a variety of tools and instruments to perform their jobs, from soldering irons to oscilloscopes. They must stay abreast of new aircraft components to replace outdated parts and update navigational computer programs.
In 2016, around 150,000 aircraft mechanics and technicians worked in the U.S. They often work outdoors, even in inclement weather. Many aircraft mechanics and technicians must work days, nights, weekends and holidays.
Most companies require aircraft mechanics and avionics technicians to have an associate degree from an FAA-approved aircraft maintenance program. Some mechanics and technicians learn their trade on the job, and others receive training while serving in the military.
Only FAA-certified mechanics can perform aircraft maintenance. To become certified, a mechanic or technician must pass FAA-administered practical, oral and written exams. The FAA also certifies technicians and mechanics in specific areas of their craft, such as engine repair. Uncertified mechanics and technicians must work under the supervision of a certified technician or mechanic.
The BLS reports that in 2017 aircraft mechanics and technicians earned a median salary of around $61,000. Workers at the bottom of the pay scale made around $36,000, while those at the top of the scale took home more than $90,000.
The BLS projects a 5 percent growth rate by 2026 in the aircraft mechanic and technician field. Outsourcing of maintenance work accounts for the slow growth rate.
Types of Airline Jobs: Logistics
As a flight dispatcher, you must prepare flight plans that satisfy numerous objectives. Flight plans consider the weather that pilots must navigate through during flight, along with weather conditions on the ground at the destination. Flight dispatchers must calculate the plane’s weight and balance, fuel needs, and departure and arrival schedules.
Flight dispatchers serve as intermediaries between aircraft pilots and ground crews. The dispatcher must stay abreast of all en route flights and notify ground crews of arrivals, departures, and weather or traffic delays. To devise accurate flight plans, dispatchers must understand the complexity and time constraints involved in navigating an aircraft in the air and on the ground. From time to time, dispatchers must travel in the cockpit during a flight to gain firsthand knowledge of flight routes and in-flight challenges.
As a flight dispatcher, you must work daytime, nighttime, weekend and holiday shifts. You must meet age, vision and hearing requirements and have good verbal and written communication skills. Most employers seek dispatchers who have earned at least a high school diploma, but candidates with meteorology experience often have an advantage over other applicants. To qualify for the job, you must pass written and practical exams to obtain an FAA Dispatch Certificate.
Entry-level flight dispatcher jobs pay around $42,000-$60,000 per year. Top earners take home about $110,000 annually, according to Avjobs.
Airline Operations Agent
An airline operations agent must wear many hats. In a sense, an operations agent serves as a ground-level flight director, keeping track of passenger rosters, luggage and cargo, departure and arrival schedules, and the progress of ground crews. If an aircraft needs fuel or de-icing, the operations agent must contact the appropriate personnel or departments. They must deal with the logistics and customer service issues associated with overbooked flights, gate changes and repair delays.
As an operations agent, you must communicate effectively with flight crews, dispatchers, airport ground control, and a host of operations supervisors, from fueling crews to cargo handlers and from catering services to aircraft mechanics. Your job may include preparing flight paperwork such as dispatch forms, weight and balance documents, and weather reports.
It is the operations agent’s job to ensure that flights leave on time in a safe and efficient manner with clean cabins and bathrooms, stocked galleys, full crews, and the correct number of passengers. Operations agents oversee passenger check-in and boarding procedures and passenger deplaning.
Most airlines require operations agents to have at least a high school education. Airlines might impose age restrictions and require you to have a valid driver’s license or customs certification if you work with international flights.
According to PayScale, operations agents earn an average hourly wage of around $13.35. With overtime, some operations agents take home up to $54,000 per year.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Aircraft Cargo Handling Supervisors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Airline and Commercial Pilots
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Flight Attendants
- PayScale: Airline Operations Agent Salary
- Avjobs: Airline Operations Agent
- Lensa: Operations Agent Job
- Avjobs: Flight Dispatcher
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.