Jobs in the Airline Industry: This Cloud Has a Silver Lining

The airline industry has had its fair share of highs and lows (pardon the pun) in recent years. As most industries, its profitability depends on economic growth and trade. Rising fuel costs, widespread delays, increased cancellations, layoffs and flying seats for one unlucky airline, all equate to turbulence but for some daring career seekers, these obstacles merely reveal opportunities in the skies. And they just might be onto something. Based on a survey of Fortune 500 companies, the airline industry has the highest number of employees over age 50. As these workers retire or seek less strenuous jobs, their positions become fair game. While spending days in the air is not for the faint of heart, the aviation, aerospace and air transportation industries collectively employ more than 2 million Americans. Things are looking up for this global operation so if you want to join the ranks of these highly committed professionals, here are six positions that will help your career prepare for takeoff:

Airline or Commercial Pilot
Indeed, champions in the skies, airline pilots are licensed to navigate planes and helicopters in flight. These trusted guides are employed by airlines to transport people and cargo. Commercial pilots, on the other hand, may participate in rescue operations, firefighting and aerial photography. Under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, pilots and other eligible flight crew members are authorized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to use firearms in an attempt to gain control of an aircraft. As a result of the 9/11 attacks, pilots can now act as federal law enforcement officers to ensure the safety of those onboard. The schedule of a pilot is quite demanding and varies based on the time of year, weather and other uncontrollable factors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment to grow 11 percent within this sector from 2010 – 2020. The military provides great training for aspiring pilots but an increasing number of hopefuls earn an associate or bachelor degree from a civilian flight school. Having a commercial pilot’s license and an instrument rating are mandatory. In this competitive industry, job prospects are best in among regional airlines and low-cost carriers. The air transportation sector has the highest level of employment for this profession.
Average salary: $76,050

Flight Attendant
The brave men and women who serve as flight attendants are responsible for ensuring the safety, comfort and overall experience of passengers. They must swiftly and amicably resolve conflict, handle food orders and respond to customer service complaints from sometimes-unruly passengers. Flight attendants also instruct passengers on the proper safety procedures before each flight and point out where the emergency exits are located.
A lot of flight attendants travel non-stop, which means they are away from home for extended periods of time. Along with discounted and even free travel, TSA recently announced flight attendants will receive the same expedited airport screening as pilots. Often overlooked, flight attendants are instrumental in supporting the pilot by helping passengers remain calm and offering a high level of personal service during flight. Professionals who possess multilingual abilities tend to stand out, as they may be able to better assist international travelers. A high school diploma is sufficient to enter this field but as the job market becomes even more competitive, preference is given to candidates with a college degree. More specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires flight attendants on an airplane with 20 or more seats to hold a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency.
Average Salary: $44,860

Air Cargo/Freight Agent
Many transportation professionals are directly involved in the delivery of goods via water, air and land. Air cargo and freight agents are the coordination experts when it comes to shipping and receiving in the sky and around the world. They monitor the import and export of cargo by means of an aircraft, which includes tracking shipment dates, inventories, payments and clients on a daily basis. Air cargo and freight agents ensure airline transportation runs smoothly. Strong customer service, bookkeeping, and computer skills are vital in this fast-paced profession. Making sure that cargo arrives or is picked up at its destination on time also calls for solid organizational skills. The job involves frequent interaction with clients and others in the logistics and shipping industry. Overall, employment among cargo and freight agents is projected to grow an impressive 29 percent from 2010 to 2020. Candidates who have a high school diploma or GED can pique an employer’s interest. Most freight workers receive on the job training to adequately prepare for the position.
Average Salary: $36,339

Air Cargo Handler
These members of the ground-ramp crew, also known as baggage and freight handlers, are the muscle behind an airline’s operations. Air cargo handlers lift and load freight and luggage. They essentially move baggage onto departing planes and unload arriving flights. If you’ve ever been to an airport, you may have seen air cargo handlers driving carts of luggage to and from the terminal. To serve in this capacity, you must be efficient, understand the balance of a plane, make safety a priority and feel comfortable working around-the-clock shifts. Securing a job as an air cargo handler requires at least a high school diploma and the ability to lift and carry at least 50 lbs. Specific licenses may be necessary in order to operate a forklift or conveyor. Unless Mother Nature forces flight cancellations, working in a range of weather conditions comes with the territory.
Average Salary: $37,400

Flight Engineer
Just like pilots and copilots, flight engineers play a significant role in flying an airplane. Part inspector, part meteorologist-this position searches an aircraft inside and out to ensure it is adequately prepared for flight. Fluid leaks, tire pressure and fuel gauges are just a few of the things flight engineers must inspect. Additionally, he or she must be familiar with the flight course and weather patterns to determine the amount of fuel the plane needs. Monitoring the plane engine and reporting on its performance are key responsibilities. Flight engineers must have a high school diploma, though at least two years of college education is preferred. The FAA mandates that persons in this field have a commercial pilot’s license and flight engineer’s certificate. Good vision, hearing and color perception as well as a satisfactory physical exam round out the list of qualifications. Employment at major airports in large cities is most feasible.
Average Salary: $136,400

Air Traffic Controller
If flying planes is like a symphony, then air traffic controllers are the orchestrators of flight. This position manages flight patterns, ensures aircrafts maintain a safe distance apart and prevents collisions. Air traffic controllers must undergo considerable preparation to include simulator training, certification examinations and on-the-job programs. What may set this field apart: candidates must be under 30 years of age and accepted by the FAA (in lieu of military air traffic control experience). After completing required coursework in an air traffic-related discipline at one of the 14 schools the FAA recruits from, candidates are enrolled in the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Control Academy. The rigid restrictions that govern the air traffic control (ATC) profession can sometimes automatically disqualify people from receiving certification. Health conditions such as epilepsy, ADHD, diabetes and clinical depression are taken seriously and prevent an applicant from being considered. A clean bill of health is preferred among those wishing to become a member of the ATC profession. Controllers are expected to remain healthy and avoid all banned medications. The average career span is about twenty to thirty years.
Average Salary: $122,950

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