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Soar to New Heights with an Aviation Career

Aviation has come a long way since the Wright Brothers flew their first aircraft in North Carolina in 1903. Modern technology has given us jet fighters, helicopters, and major commercial airliners, ushering in a vast array of career opportunities in aviation. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the air transportation industry provided 492,600 jobs in 2008. Now, a decade after the devastation of September 11, 2001, aviation has made a major recovery and the outlook for the industry is brighter than ever. Truly, when it comes to aviation careers, the sky is the limit.

Aviation Degrees
"It started as flight training and has evolved into so much more," says Professor Bob Fiegl, chairman of the aeronautical science department at the Prescott, AZ, campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace. Twenty-first century aviation degrees run the gamut from aeronautics and applied meteorology to engineering, business, and global security. Choose an associate degree in aviation maintenance science to gain professional skills as an airframe and powerplant technician. Or study the universe in a space physics bachelor's degree program and get the training needed for high-level work in the space- and aerospace-related industries. A host of certificates and advanced degrees in aviation are available as well.

New Degree Spotlight: Aviation Safety Science
It's all about safety these days, and up-and-coming degrees in aviation safety science reflect this focus. Safety professionals apply principles drawn from engineering, physics, biology, chemistry, education, health, psychology, and management to identify, evaluate, control, and prevent hazards in the workplace. Aviation safety science degrees are tailored to the needs of the marketplace, producing graduates who are highly sought-after for their safety management expertise and technical guidance in compliance issues involving federal and state health, hygiene, and workplace standards. Though safety science is an interdisciplinary field, safety programs with an aviation focus enable graduates to address the unique safety needs within the aviation and aerospace industry.

Aviation Career Skills
To get your aviation career off the ground, you'll need technical skill, clear communication, and the ability to think on your feet. Those with a strong aptitude for math and science will fare best in this rapidly evolving field, where technological advancement is a given. Soft skills like flexibility, multitasking, and self-motivation are also critical to success in an aviation career. You'll need to be in good physical condition to handle the rigors of a career in aviation, whether you're flying the aircraft, fixing it, or performing flight attendant duties. And of course, love of travel is a must!

Inside Look at Aviation Programs
"Embry-Riddle is very specialized in the field of aviation and has been since its inception," says Professor Fiegl. "Back in the 1920s, when the founders of the university were looking at aviation in its infancy, they saw a need for this type of technical, formal education and accompanying training." In fact, he says, the school's opening coincided with the implementation of the Air Commerce Act of 1926, which mandated the certification and medical examination of pilots.

In addition to Embry-Riddle's myriad offerings for non-flying aviation careers, the school maintains a world-class flight program, with the most technologically advanced fleet in collegiate aviation. And students can look forward to getting off the ground right from the start. "Our flight students are in the air within the first two to three days of enrollment," says Fiegl. "It's important to get them in the air so they can relate what's going on in an airplane to what's being talked about in the classroom." This kind of integrated training is a hallmark of Embry-Riddle's commitment to students' current and future success.

Spotlight on 5 Aviation Career Paths
Looking for a high-flying career? Try one of these occupations on for size.

>>Airframe and Powerplant Technician
There are a million things that can go wrong at 30,000 feet, and it's up to aircraft technicians to keep those mishaps to a minimum. To learn how to keep airplanes and their equipment in tip-top shape, you'll need to complete a one or two-year training program in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) -approved aviation maintenance technician school. In May 2010, median annual earnings in the occupation were $53,420, according to the BLS. Employment is expected to increase by 7 percent, with favorable job opportunities expected for those with formal training.

>>Flight Attendant
If you love people and travel and you have a knack for staying calm in stressful situations, a career as a flight attendant could be on the horizon. You'll need FAA certification and a high school diploma at the minimum, though a college degree is preferred. According to the BLS, in May 2010, flight attendants had median annual earnings of $37,740. Employment is projected to grow 8 percent, about as fast as average, and keen competition for jobs is expected because of the attractive nature of the profession.

>>Airline Pilot
For those who love to soar, a career as a professional pilot is a dream come true. You can't have your head in the clouds in this line of work, though a college degree and flight training are essential elements of pilot preparation. According to the BLS, employment of airline pilots is projected to grow 8 percent, with strong competition for jobs at the major airlines. And it's no wonder why airline pilots pull in about $103,210 a year.

>>Travel Agent
Help people discover the joy of flight and travel with a career as a travel agent. Training is available through vocational schools; some travel agents pursue a bachelor's degree in travel and tourism. In May 2010, median annual earnings of these airline/travel specialists were $31,870. The BLS projects little or no change in employment of travel agents, but those with formal training should have the best opportunities to get into the field.

>>Air Traffic Controller
Someone's got to direct traffic in the sky that's where air traffic controllers come in. Safety and efficiency is the name of the game, and many aspiring air traffic controllers learn their stuff by earning a two- or four-year degree through the FAA's Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative program. The BLS projects employment to grow 13 percent, with keen competition for these rewarding positions. Median annual earnings of air traffic controllers were $108,040 in May 2010.

Fun Facts About Aviation

  • The list of celebrity pilots is long and celebrated: Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie, Harrison Ford, and Morgan Freeman to name just a few are all proud to carry a pilot's license.
  • Did you know that you can earn an aviation degree online? Choose from offerings such as aviation business administration, aviation maintenance, professional aeronautics, and more.
  • With the ever-increasing popularity of air travel in the U.S. we've seen a jump from 172 million passengers in 1970 to 757 million passengers in 2008 aviation degree holders will continue to be in demand.

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