Aviation Career Routes and Apprenticeships

Fly to the Skies!

The aviation sector contributes around £20 billion to the UK economy every year, currently supporting over 230,000 jobs. The UK represents the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world and as the need for worldwide connectivity and passenger demand increases, this is set to grow rapidly. UK passenger traffic is projected to soar from 284 million last year to 435 million by 2050.

As the industry grows, it creates increased scope for career opportunities. For many the perception of careers within the aviation sector surrounds pilots and cabin crew, however, there are a wide variety of careers available to suit people from all walks of life with various skills and qualifications. 

What type of jobs are available?

There are many different career opportunities available for anyone interested in getting into aviation however, the main 6 career opportunities are:

  • Engineering
  • Pilot
  • Air Traffic Control
  • Airport Operations
  • Cabin Crew
  • Operations, Planning and Crewing

The six areas of aviation relate to a wide range of roles within airlines, airports, air traffic control (ATC), civilian, military, rotary, fixed wing, aerospace manufacturing, engineering, airports, ground handling. There are also numerous non-aviation specific roles catered for within the sector.

The skills to succeed

As the airline industry is so large, there is a wide variety of roles which can suit many different people with various skillsets and qualifications, however there are some key attributes which are important in this industry. The ability to work well as part of a team and under pressure, strong communication skills, flexibility, good timekeeping and problem solving are skills suited to many aviation related roles. 

With such a wide range of positions available, the skills and requirements needed will vary from role to role. 

Examples

Pilot – To become a pilot, it is essential that applicants have a good standard of health as a detailed medical assessment forms part of the initial recruitment process and is regularly retested throughout a career as a pilot. 

To become a commercial pilot, candidates must first achieve an Airline Transport Pilots License (ATPL) or Multi-Pilot License (MPL). There are generally three entry routes to become a commercial pilot either through private training, armed forces training, or through a university course which includes pilot training. Candidates must be over 21 years old and be educated to at least A Level standard. Maths and physics are key subjects for those wishing to become an airline pilot. 

Cabin Crew – Many airlines will only recruit Cabin crew from the age 21, but some from age 18. Although customer service is an important part of the job, the main role of cabin crew is the safety of passengers onboard an aircraft. Most airlines require a minimum of 5 GCSEs grade C and above (including Maths and English). Maths and English testing at interview is commonplace. 

The interview process can be intensive. Some airline interviews will consist of several stages. Once candidates have succeeded at interview, they must attend and successfully complete a rigorous training program which can take anything from two – six weeks covering a wide range of skills including: safety procedures, security, firefighting, first aid, teamwork and communication and detailed knowledge of aircraft types, as well as customer service and people skills. 

Airport – There are also a wide range of roles available both front of house at an airport like ticket desk, customer service and check-in. And behind the scenes, jobs include: dispatchers, baggage handlers and ramp operatives. For airport operations and airport customer facing roles, there is normally a minimum requirement of GCSEs and candidates must be over 18. The ability to work well as a team, perform under pressure and in challenging circumstances, such as delays and flight cancellations are essential. An airport is a busy, fast moving working environment requiring a great level of flexibility and strong people skills. 

FAQ’s about the Aviation Sector

Where are the jobs based?

Worldwide

What kinds of salary/pay can be expected?

The salary varies depending on the individual’s level of experience, qualification and the company/organisation.

Are there apprenticeships available?

In some areas particularly in engineering.

How competitive is it to enter the sector/find work? 

Pursuing a career in aviation is highly competitive, however the requirement for skilled people within this sector is increasing. The aviation industry in the UK is facing strong growth both in a civil and defence capacity, this creates a clear and defined need to develop talent for a growing industry.

What should I know about working in the sector? 

Long anti-social working hours are the norm in this sector. Aircrew and airport staff are routinely required to work early in the morning, late at night (or through the night), weekends and bank holidays. Although this causes disruption to social life, it develops a great sense of comradery within the industry. Working in aviation represents a lifestyle rather than a job. Although there are many challenges, those who work in this sector tend to share a lifelong passion for aviation.

For those who stay within aviation, there are many great opportunities for progression both within chosen roles and across other roles within the sector. Many people move around within aviation, perhaps working in an airport, then as cabin crew for an airline and then become a pilot or move to air traffic control.

The future of Aviation

With rapid expansion, there is an increase in career opportunities. The industry is growing faster than the availability of skilled people so this presents an ideal opportunity for more people to choose aviation careers. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing estimates that there will be a need for 95,000 new commercial pilots by 2034 in the EU alone! This illustrates the level of demand for people to join this sector.

Technology is at the forefront of aviation and the sector is constantly developing new and innovative means to enhance safety, training, operational performance and communication and great strides are being taken to enhance fuel efficiency and limit environmental impact. 

Pilots now carry electronic flight bags removing the need to carry heavy physical manuals onboard the aircraft. Cabin crew use electronic point of sale (EPOS) or IPads onboard to calculate online sales. 

Air traffic control (ATC) uses a variety of automated solutions that provide controllers with timely information, increased visibility and better communication with aircraft. Improved technologies assist ATC in ensuring safe flight and help to fulfil the primary responsibility of preventing collisions between aircraft.

Aircraft and airports are continually being modernised and updated using new and ground-breaking technologies.

The Aviation Skills Partnership (ASP) strives to continuously improve education and training opportunities leading to and within the aviation sector, ensuring that the right people have the right skills to get the right job. 

Apprenticeships in Aerospace

Aerospace careers are closely linked to the aviation sector. Apprenticeships in aerospace include:

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Aircraft data analysis
  • Aircraft engine technician
  • Aircraft maintenance engineer

Aviation apprenticeships offer a practical route allowing you to work and earn as you learn through a combination of academic study and on the job training. You can opt to obtain intermediate, advanced or higher apprenticeships in a wide range of roles. 

Relevant A Levels 

Strong core subjects are recommended when looking to forge a career in aviation. The following A Levels could help you to achieve your dream career:

  • Physics
  • Maths
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Geography

Maths and physics are essential, if you don’t select these choices, depending on your degree choice, then you may need to complete an additional year of study. This will usually be a Foundation Degree – before starting the degree course.

Going to College

Some colleges also offer aviation related engineering courses, these colleges usually have close connections with aviation companies. The Aviation Academy at Craven College based at Leeds Bradford Airport offers a range of courses and qualifications to work in the aviation sector.

Aviation and Aerospace Degrees

There are a range of aviation related degrees available at universities. Degrees courses include:

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Aviation and airport management
  • Aviation and logistics management

You could be working towards a BEng (Bachelor’s level degree), three years of full-time study, or an MEng which involves an integrated additional year of study leading to a Master’s level qualification.

You could be working in…

  • Airports
  • Airlines – operations, ground and cabin crew
  • Freight companies
  • Baggage and cargo handling
  • Aerospace manufacturing
  • Airport concessions – retail, catering and parking

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