Why get into aviation?
Do you think about it every night and day? Want to spread your wings and fly away? Well, your career could allow you to realise your dream…well, kind of! If you pursue a career in the air transport industry, you’re not going to be strapping on a pair of wax and feather wings and flying around like Icarus with an annual salary. However, you could be playing a vital role in helping people and cargo to be flown all over the world.
What does aviation involve?
Without the people that work in aviation, air freight and air passenger services careers, you wouldn’t be able to jet across Europe for a weekend break, you would never receive air mail from your pen friend in Papua New Guinea, international logistics operations would all be carried out using cargo ships and Busted would never have written their poptastic hit single, ‘Air Hostess’.
The importance, complexity and commercial clout of the aviation industry means that tons of career opportunities are available in this area. The world’s international airlines have fleets and fleets of aircraft, which travel to destinations all over the world every single day.
Literally millions of aeroplanes traverse the Earth each year, carrying people, mail and cargo to destinations far and near. According to the Department for Transport, “Over 200 million passengers and over 2 million tonnes of freight are carried by UK airlines and airports every year.”*
Take a moment to think about how many airports in the world are needed to handle and process all of these flights. Then think about how many people are employed at each airport. It’s a staggering number, I assure you! All of these people help to make sure that air travel is carried out as smoothly, efficiently and safely as possible.
Every single employee that plays a part in this vast network is just as important as everyone else, from the pilots, the air traffic controllers, the baggage handlers, the freight forwarders and the cabin crew team, to the engineers, the airside operation staff, the security officers, the engineers, the firefighters and the customer service staff that work in airport terminals.
A huge range of different organisations employ staff in this area, including commercial airlines such as easyJet, Ryanair, bmibaby and British Airways, regulatory authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority, government departments such as the Department for Transport and other companies like the National Air Traffic Services (NATS).
What options are there for an aviation career?
As you may already know, pilots are not just the first episodes of new TV shows. Airline pilots are the guys that fly people and goods all over the world. Pilots that fly commercial and freight aircraft never fly solo. Indeed, you’re likely to find two, three or even four pilots in the cockpit at the same time; it all comes down to the specific journey being undertaken.
Essentially, a pilot’s job is to operate aircraft safely and efficiently. These guys have an incredible amount of responsibility; other people’s lives are in their hands and therefore pilots need to undergo a rigorous and lengthy training process before they can “get their wings.” They need to be able to operate the complex controls and navigation devices, understand the intricacies of fuel consumption, different altitudes and weather conditions and have the ability to adapt to emergency situations.
In order to develop a career in this area, you will need to attain an Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL), which may take between nine and 36 months. Before you can get your ATPL you must have gained your Private Pilot’s License (PPL), followed by a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL).
You could fund all this yourself; however, it would be pretty darn expensive. Alternatively, you could train to fly with one of the armed forces before converting to become a commercial pilot later. Some organisations do sponsor people to become trainee pilots; however, this is incredibly competitive.
Pilots can’t fly the plane and serve the drinks at the same time. Consequently, a dedicated cabin crew is required for every passenger flight. These guys provide a high level of customer service to passengers during their flight: offering refreshments, selling duty-free goods, checking on-board safety equipment and communicating important safety information to passengers.
Careers within air cabin crews are often regarded as fairly glamorous jobs, which allow people to jet off all over the world. However, whilst these jobs can often be great fun, they are also a lot of hard work, involve long hours and pay is generally quite low. Constantly being on the move can also get quite stressful.
Air travel passenger services are not only confined to in-flight situations. A bunch of jobs are also available inside the airport terminal. These people guide passengers through the check-in process, direct people to the right gates, and provide assistance for disabled people, children and foreign nationals.
These jobs can be rewarding but challenging. Airport passenger service professionals are the people responsible for dealing with passengers’ problems, issues and queries. Patience, excellent communication skills and a friendly nature are essential for dealing with people who may be angry and irate due to travel complications, such as delays and cancellations.
With so many flights entering and leaving the country every day, somebody needs to manage the traffic. Enter air traffic controllers. These guys tend to work for National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and use state-of-the-art radar and communication technologies to liaise with pilots whilst they are in the air, and help them to plan their trajectories and routes. From their control towers, they make sure that air disasters are avoided and that all inbound and outbound flights are made safely and efficiently. A degree is not necessarily essential for entry into the profession; however, you must be 18 years of age or over to apply.
Safety is understandably a major concern when it comes to air travel, especially considering the heightened risk of terrorist activity in more recent times. Consequently, each and every airport employs dedicated security officers to make sure that all passengers and airline staff are kept safe. These guys make sure all the necessary airport security checks are carried out.
If you work in security, you will be instructing passengers on how to cooperate and make sure the security check process is carried out quickly and efficiently. You may also be using X-ray devices and baggage scanners, checking the contents of people’s bags and searching people on a random basis or when necessary. To thrive in these careers, you will need to be friendly, patient and firm when required.
Safety, efficiency and organisation are also incredibly important on airport runways and taxiways. Consequently, a bunch of people are employed in airside operations teams. If you work in this area, you could be marshalling aeroplanes to the runway and to the right arrival gates once they have landed (these are the people that use those things that look like table-tennis bats).
Alternatively, you could be working as an aircraft refueller or ramp operator. You could also be working to monitor noise and pollution levels to make sure the airport is as environmentally-friendly as possible. Similarly, you could be working behind-the-scenes as a baggage handler to make sure that people’s bags get on the right planes and are placed on the correct baggage carousels upon arrival.
Understandably, the aviation industry is reliant on the engineers that design, develop, build and maintain the aircraft that are used to transport people and freight across the world. For more information on careers in this area, check out the Aerospace/Avionics Engineering and Transport Engineering subsectors now!
As you may know, aeroplanes can be used for all kinds of logistical functions. Indeed, pilots don’t just fly sunburnt people back from their holidays. Importing and exporting cargo by plane is the quickest way to transport goods across the world.
Consequently, many freight forwarders and supply chain managers play a key role in the aviation industry. For more detail on these careers, check out the Supply Chain, Procurement & Distribution Management and Import/Export, Shipping & Freight Forwarding subsectors now!
Do you feel like decisions about your career are all up in the air at the moment? Or do you feel like your future career could actually be up in the air? If you are the former then don’t worry, we all feel the same – you’ll find something eventually. If you are the latter, however, then hurrah! You’re in the right place. A career in aviation, air freight and air passenger services could be the one for you!