The role of an aircraft engineer involves the application of scientific and technological principles to the research, development and design of aircraft and their components.
Aircraft engineers research design specifications for aircraft and the relevant support equipment. The role sometimes involves the assembly, testing and modification of these components.
There are also aircraft maintenance jobs under the umbrella of aeronautical engineering jobs. These roles involve making inspections, overseeing maintenance, and servicing aircraft. This work is generally carried out in offices, factory production hangars or aeronautical laboratories.
Aircraft engineering also involves performance testing. Engineers aim to improve safety features and minimise fuel consumption and pollution. In fact, aeronautical engineering has an increasing focus on the environmental impact of aircraft.
Engineers may need to use aircraft computer-aided-design (CAD) software such as DOORs and NASTRAN, so there is often a call for software specialists and IT skills.
If you have an interest in the aviation industry, have a technical mind, and want to work at the cutting edge of technology, a career as an aviation engineer might be for you.
For a closer look at some of the more specialist roles in aviation engineering, take a look at our other guides:
- Composite engineer
- Aircraft fitter
- Airworthiness engineer
- Stress engineer
- B1 licensed engineer
- Aerodynamics engineer
- Communications engineer
What does an aircraft engineer do?
There are certain areas that an engineer might specialise in, such as systems, aerodynamics, avionics, or materials. The tasks that they might carry out include:
- Supervising the assembly of aircraft systems and engines
- Testing aircraft to measure performance and identify areas for improvement
- Developing design specifications for aircraft systems
- Applying scientific principles to improve the performance of aircraft
- Researching the environmental impact of aircraft and taking action to minimise this
- Investigating problems with aircraft or the causes of accidents
- Creating reports for clients and providing technical advice
- Maintaining aircraft and carrying out regular inspections
What qualifications do you need to become an aircraft engineer?
The tried and tested way to get an engineering job in the aviation industry is with a degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering. Degrees that might also impress employers include mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, applied physics, manufacturing, mathematics and computer science.
A postgraduate qualification is desirable, and an appropriate Masters degree, or other education to Masters-level, is necessary to register as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). An MSc in aeronautical/aerospace engineering is useful if your first degree is in a different subject.
Postgraduate study may be the best way to progress and gives individuals a means of focusing on a specific area of aeronautical engineering. It’s recommended that job seekers gain some pre-entry work experience, either while studying on an aeronautical engineering degree course, or once qualified.
You may need to undergo psychometric testing, an eyesight test, and a physical. A security check is usually required before aeronautical engineers can start work.
There is also on-going training for aircraft engineers to keep up with technological developments.
Most large companies offer structured training for newly-recruited engineers and encourage professional ‘chartered’ status. This Chartered Engineer (CENG) status is granted by the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).
Some company training schemes are accredited by professional bodies, such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAES) or are provided with the input of universities.
Companies usually offer in-service training and short courses to meet specific training needs. Marshall Aerospace recruits up to 20 new engineering apprentices each year in a variety of specialist areas. These include airframe, avionics and electrical engineering, manufacturing, and mechanical/electrical/avionics design.
Schemes like this offer young aircraft engineers the chance to expand their skills and gain highly-regarded industry qualifications.
What skills do you need to become an aircraft engineer?
- A technical mind with the ability to understand complex systems is very important because of scientific nature of the work.
- A creative attitude to design and problem solving as this work is often at the cutting edge of technology.
- The ability to interpret and analyse complicated information and put your findings into practice.
- A desire to keep up with the latest technological advances in the field.
- The ability to work in a team is important as you will be working with a wide range of people. You will need to be able to work with suppliers, clients and managers on a daily basis.
- When overseeing the assembly of aircraft and their systems, project management skills will be valuable.
- Excellent communication skills will help when giving technical and regulatory advice to clients and suppliers within the industry.
How much does an aircraft engineer earn?*
Starting salary: £22,000 – £28,000
Experienced: £28,000 – £40,000
Senior: £45,000 – £60,000+
Engineers with a Masters or research qualification can earn higher salaries. It’s also worth considering that the big employers will usually pay more.
Figures from Prospects.
The average salary for an aircraft maintenance engineer in the UK, according to Aviation Job Search’s data, is £47,246.
What are your career prospects as an aircraft engineer?
For budding aircraft engineers hoping to find employment in the aviation industry, the good news is that prospects are excellent. This is a dynamic and growing engineering specialism across Europe, the Middle East and the US.
Many commercial airlines are expanding their fleets of aircraft to satisfy customer demand for global and domestic air travel. The defence industry also provides opportunities. Scientific research organisations and regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) employ talented aero technicians and engineers.
Thanks to the expansion of global air travel today, and the demands of national security, there’s much activity in UK aero engineering. Large numbers of aeronautical engineers are required by commercial companies operating in the UK, including Boeing, Bombardier, BAE, Marshall Aerospace and Rolls-Royce. Across the Ministry of Defence and armed forces engineers are needed, particularly within the Royal Air Force.
*Salaries are a guide and can vary depending on several factors.