The air in the aviation industry rarely has a calm moment. Shortly after 9/11, roughly 130,000 jobs were lost as airlines responded to reduced demand. Then the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fueled spikes in oil prices and airfares. Today, airlines directly employ 550,000, the Air Transport Association reports. As the economy struggles to rebound, aircraft mechanics, pilots, and air traffic controllers are concerned about staffing shortfalls and their stake in the $120 billion commercial airline industry.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Air Traffic Controllers Association have publicized differing accounts of staffing at the nation’s busiest airports. According to NATCA, retirement of air traffic controllers is outpacing recruitment. “We’re at a low we haven’t seen in 16 years,” offers union spokesman Doug Church. But according to its Website, the FAA plans to hire 1,914 controllers in 2009. “In supervisory positions training the next group of traffic controllers, we steadily recruit,” states FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% growth through 2016. Overall, projections are similar for equipment mechanics and service technicians. Job growth for airline pilots and flight engineers through 2016 is projected at 13%.
“Every pilot in the air needs a support team on the ground,” offers Jill Meridith, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Among Embry’s 33 degree programs, the most popular are aeronautical science, aerospace engineering, and air traffic management—which has steady double-digit enrollment growth. Certification in aviation environmental science, aerospace studies, or aviation management satisfies entry requirements to numerous aviation disciplines. The FAA Collegiate Training Initiative, military service, and testing through the Office of Personnel Management are all viable means to prepare for a career in aviation. The Airports Council International and American Association of Airport Executives are information portals that offer career links.
The industry offers hundreds of career possibilities including accident investigator, cabin designer, airport art exhibit curator, and first-class executive chef. Careers in aviation reach above and beyond passenger-contact positions in airports; the sky is truly the limit as these four professionals prove.