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Ready for take off! Careers in engineering + aviation

Engineering + Aviation Careers

Whether it’s on the ground or up high, people who work on aircraft are in hot demand

A pilot is the last person needed to get a plane off the ground because before they hit the throttle, a huge team of flight test engineers, navigation system designers and aircraft architects have built and prepped the machine for take-off. 

These aviation careers sound exotic but getting there isn’t: you need to be armed with a master’s degree in aerospace engineering, an engineering apprenticeship or a technical aeroskills course. These qualifications will open doors to jobs that literally fly you around the world.

Who’s hiring? 

Global giants like aeroplane makers Boeing and Airbus, engine designers like Rolls Royce, and defence companies like Lockheed Martin are hunting for new employees who can build the next generation drone, plane or navigation system. 

Then there are companies such as Destinus, which is building a hypersonic plane fueled by clean hydrogen that will cut the time it takes to fly from Sydney to America from 17 hours to just four. Propulsion engineers at airlines around the world are looking at everything from hydrogen to biofuel to get planes off fossil fuel.

At home, Australia’s airforce and navy are keen to find people who can fix and fly helicopters – and run missions. 

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Your day job

If a pilot flies the planes – or the drones – what do aeronautical engineers or flight test specialists actually do? 

An aeronautical engineer works at the start of a plane’s life, designing aircraft and the components and support equipment inside. During the building process they will inspect the frames for cracks or structural faults both in the lab and under test flight conditions.

A flight test engineer’s day-to-day is very different – they work in planes while they’re flying. They do the pre-flight and post-flight cockpit inspections, and during the flight you’ll find them in the cockpit, in charge of ​​the air-conditioning, heating and oxygen safety, and pulling the valves and levers that the pilot and co-pilot can’t reach. 

Then you have navigation systems engineers (who might also go by avionics or systems engineers). 

Of all these jobs, this particular branch of engineering perhaps offers the most opportunities to work in the space sector and on satellite launches. Navigation systems engineers handle the design and programming of all the electrical systems onboard air-going craft, from drones to spaceships and aeroplanes. A navigation or avionics engineer is responsible for the proper functioning of computer systems for communication, navigation and guidance work. And because they can work in a variety of related industries in the commercial and defence aviation sectors, they’re in hot demand.

Getting back to the skies

There are a few reasons why aviation engineers are suddenly so sought after: during the COVID pandemic, the Australian aviation industry axed tens of thousands of jobs, but now, with new planes entering fleets and people keen to travel again, airlines are in a hiring frenzy. Qantas has announced an engineering training academy, due to open in 2025, with the capacity to train up to 300 people every year!

Start your career here

Engineering + aviation study

  • Bachelor of Engineering (Aeronautical) (Honours), University of Sydney
  • Bachelor of Aviation, Edith Cowan University
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Aeronautical) (Honours) UNSW Canberra 
  • Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace Engineering) (Honours), University of Queensland

Engineering + aviation careers

  • Flight test engineer: $110K–$131K
  • Aeronautical engineer: $58K–$122K
  • Navigation systems engineer: $52K–$155K
  • Aircraft maintenance technician: $69K average

Salaries from payscale.com and indeed.com

This article first appeared in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2023.

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