Aeronautical engineers design and develop aircraft and aviation technology. The airplanes they build are as varied as consumer planes and the most advanced military jets. The work requires attention to detail, strong mathematical and science skills, and a knack for problem-solving. Aeronautical engineers are responsible for ensuring aircraft are safe and meet customer requirements.
Over 80,000 aeronautical and aerospace engineers were employed in the United States as of 2012. The median salary was $103,720, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest paid 10 percent surveyed were paid under $65,450 per year. Aeronautical engineers with salaries in the top 10 percent made over $149,120.
Almost 40 percent of aeronautical and aerospace engineers work for aircraft and parts manufacturers, earning an average of $98,000 per year. The next largest employer by industry is research and development services, where aeronautical engineers averaged over $111,000 per year. The federal government, engineering services, and manufacturers of control, navigation and other precision equipment are also important employers who pay average earnings over $100,000 annually. Geographically, the highest paying region for aeronautical and aerospace engineers is the Virginia and Washington D.C. area, where salaries averaged over $120,000 as of 2012. Pay is also high in Alabama, Idaho and New Jersey, all with average salaries of about $115,000.
Growth in employment for aeronautical and aerospace engineers is expected to grow a modest 5 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS. The industry is moving toward developing aircraft that are quieter, safer and more fuel efficient, so expertise in these areas can lead to good opportunities. This includes development of advanced engines and propulsion systems for existing aircraft. Aeronautical engineers trained in collaborative work methods and who are skilled in the use of computer-assisted design and simulation techniques are expected to be in demand.
Education and Licensing
Entry level aeronautical engineering jobs generally require a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Typically, the undergraduate program takes about four years and combines classes and lab work. Some schools offer an extended five-year program that leads to a master’s degree. Career advancement into research or management usually depends on earning a professional engineer's license. The path to the PE license starts with passing the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying shortly after graduation. Once you have several years work experience, you can then take the professional engineering exam to get your PE license.