You can assume that the airline with which you’re flying took great pains to get only jet planes that are efficient and structurally sound. But whether your aircraft takes off, flies and lands safely depends on the cooperation of many flight professionals, some of whom do not fly with you. Their tasks and salaries vary by job title.
Because airline pilots are ultimately responsible for the safety of their planes, their authority over crew, passengers and cargo is unquestioned. They guide their vehicles through safe operations, monitor engines and aircraft systems, and follow preflight, takeoff and landing procedures to the letter. The job requires a commercial pilot’s license, instrument rating, airline certifications and thousands of hours of flight time. Many employers, especially large legacy airlines, also demand at least a bachelor’s degree. As of May 2012, airline pilots averaged $130,410 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Although flight attendants see to the comfort of airline passengers, their primary task is to ensure the safety and security of all who are on board. They demonstrate the use of emergency equipment in preflight announcements, make sure all passengers fasten their seat belts, serve or sell food and beverages, and tend to the special needs of passengers. Flight attendants usually need at least a high school diploma, although many airlines prefer those with college degrees. Employers train their attendants in formal classes that can last up to six weeks. Attendants then receive their FAA certification to do their jobs. Flight attendants averaged an annual salary of $42,210, reports the BLS.
Aircraft mechanics keep jetliners airworthy through periodic inspections mandated by the FAA. They check out frames and parts for problems, run diagnostic tests using gauges and other equipment, and repair or replace defective components. They also keep careful records of their work, which they can present to government officials on demand. Most mechanics go through an FAA-approved school for aviation maintenance. Programs of study last up to 24 months. Some also get two-year or four-year degrees in aviation technology or aviation maintenance management. Mechanics must pass written, oral and practical exams to receive the required FAA certification for their profession. The BLS reports that aircraft mechanics made a mean $60,130 yearly.
Air Traffic Controllers
To prevent aircraft in crowded air spaces from colliding with each other, air traffic controllers coordinate the takeoffs, landings and movement of vehicles within their area of responsibility. They monitor activities using radar equipment, issue instructions for takeoffs and landings, and provide weather information to pilots. During emergencies, they alert airport staff to take appropriate action. To become an air traffic controller requires U.S. citizenship and completing an air traffic management degree from an FAA-certified school. Professionals must then pass a physical exam and job performance exam twice a year to maintain their job certifications. According to the BLS, Air traffic controllers received a mean $55,860 per year.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Wages for Scheduled Air Transportation
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Flight Attendants Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians Do
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Air Traffic Controllers Do
Aurelio Locsin has been writing professionally since 1982. He published his first book in 1996 and is a frequent contributor to many online publications, specializing in consumer, business and technical topics. Locsin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scientific and technical communications from the University of Washington.