Aviation Career Aircraft

Aircraft engineers research, design, manufacture and maintain aircraft. They work on any and every mechanical aspect of the craft, including airframes, hydraulics and pneumatics, engines and fuel systems and control and communications systems.

Engineers are involved in the following stages of aircraft production and manufacture: the design of new products such as components or entire engines; the manufacture and assembly of aircraft parts; research into solutions for complex engineering problems; maintenance of the finished craft to ensure safety and operational status.

Aircraft engineering technicians , who aren't as highly qualified or experienced as engineers, work in teams specialising in airframes, hydraulics, engines, fuel, pneumatics or avionics. Their skills are based in the mechanical, electrical or electronic fields. They are usually involved in regular servicing and repair of aircraft.  They can also be involved in the research and design stages of components, and improvements to existing parts, fulfilling roles such as generating plans using CAD (computer-aided design) applications.

Day-to-Day Activities

Aircraft maintenance engineers are responsible for repairing, replacing, assembling and installing aircraft parts. They also troubleshoot by testing aircraft systems to identify the source or cause of malfunctions. They inspect parts for damage or general wear, perform routine maintenance tasks, and make entries in technical records. They carry out the regulatory routine and special inspections, and certify that maintenance is meeting the correct standards. In addition, they are responsible for supervising aircraft maintenance workers, and for working with teams, suppliers, clients and managers to agree budgets, timescales and specifications for work undertaken.

The work activities of aircraft research and design engineers vary according to their field of specialism. Research can be undertaken in controlled environments or research centres. The subsequent design stage involves developing specifications; adhering to strict standards; assembly and modification; participating in test programmes; recording data; resolving issues that arise during the design, development and testing processes; etc.

Aircraft engineering technicians in the maintenance field are responsible for conducting the regular checks on aircraft engines, body and mechanical systems. They test parts to ensure they are in good working order. If faults are present, the technicians diagnose faults and take remedial action through repair or replacement. They must also keep accurate records of all work undertaken.

Aircraft engineers and engineering technicians work on aircraft may be working indoors in hangars and  outdoors. If involved in the research and design stages, they will usually be working indoors in clean laboratories, although assembly, fitting and testing may be outdoors or in factory production areas.

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Would This Career Suit You?

Aircraft maintenance engineers often work during the evening and at night when the aircraft are not in use. This means the work often requires shift working, overtime and being on call. Some aircraft maintenance engineers work away from home in remote locations for extended periods of time. The work can be very physically demanding. Engineers and technicians may work in noisy environments, in uncomfortable positions or on scaffolds. Lifting can also be involved. Having to work quickly while still observing safety standards can be stressful.

Engineers and technicians need to combine mechanical aptitude with imaginative, inquisitive and logical minds. Aptitudes include maths and computing, plus a logical approach to problem solving. Due to the safety requirements, they need to have a high level of personal integrity and a commitment to accuracy and upholding of standards. A high level of concentration is needed, as long periods of high level training are required. As repetitive maintenance tasks have to be performed to rigorous standards, the ability to be accurate to the smallest detail is essential. Additionally, good eyesight and hearing, and good eye-hand and muscle co-ordination are necessary.

Good engineers and technicians have the ability to work well in teams, but are also able to make independent decisions, frequently under pressure. They must have the ability to follow instructions provided in written or blueprint form, and to interpret regulations. They should enjoy analysing information and troubleshooting problems, being methodical in their approach to the work, and in subsequent report writing.

Salary and Prospects

Entry levels for aircraft engineering vary. Aircraft engineers can begin by taking certificate courses, then entering work and studying towards a degree. Some companies require new staff to hold an HGV licence, while others may ask for some previous mechanical experience.

Technicians often start with a company as an apprentice at age 16 to 18 years, although entry is possible up to 25. Requirements are usually four GCSEs/S passes, including maths and science or technology, or equivalent qualifications. Adults with experience in engineering are usually welcomed. Once in employment, technicians should aim to get the qualification EngTech.

There are career opportunities with private companies, ranging in scale from small employers to large international aerospace manufacturers and airline operators. Other employers include the Armed Forces, government departments and agencies, and regulatory authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority. Many airlines have their own maintenance division, and training schemes and sponsorship schemes are available.

Standard working hours are 37-40 hours a week, but overtime or weekend work is occasionally required. Technicians' salaries range from around £10,000-£14,000 a year to more than £30,000. Promotion prospects are good and can lead to engineering posts or, with experience and higher qualifications, to management roles. It is usually necessary to gain incorporated or chartered engineer status to enter higher level jobs. There are also opportunities overseas.

Engineers usually begin with an aeronautical engineering degree. Adults with relevant experience are usually welcomed. Experienced aerospace engineers are usually either incorporated or chartered engineers and it is worth getting as much training and as high a level of qualifications as possible. Most work for aircraft manufacturing companies, airline operators and the Armed Forces, government departments and agencies, and regulatory authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Engineers normally work 37 to 40 hours a week, but hours can be longer to meet deadlines.

Salaries range from around £17,000 to more than £45,000 a year. Promotion can lead to senior engineering posts or management roles. There are also opportunities overseas or to work independently as a consultant.

Aviation Career - What Next?

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