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Careers in aviation

By Menaka Fernando
A great imagination can take you anywhere. When it comes to careers in the field of aviation, the sky’s the limit! There are several fields in aviation for both males and females who do not necessarily want to be pilots.
The best course of action for a future aviator is a college or university degree that combines aviation management or flight operations with another discipline. When I say “another discipline” it could even be a liberal arts education which is about situational awareness. (This is much needed in the cockpit of modern aircraft) This would certainly be a unique combination.

How can you apply your unique talents and skills to this exciting industry? How can you turn your love of aviation and all things related to aviation into a marketable and profitable career? Aviation courses range from professional pilot training to aircraft engineers, aircraft maintenance mechanics (including airframe and power-plant), air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers and airport managers. A school leaver must always look at ways to educate oneself in a way that he/she is ‘marketable’ in the industry.

For instance, many pilots begin their careers as flight instructors. Although the income at this stage is low, it is compensated with the opportunity to earn flight time. Thereafter one could move on to airlines that operate smaller aircraft that operate in a limited geographic area and then on to major airlines that offer captains exceptional salaries, benefits, work schedules and, of course, travel opportunities.

Whether the economy booms or slumps there will always be more and more people flying - for pleasure and for business. Thus opportunities in aviation are plentiful, and qualified employees will always be in demand. Statistics show that airline traffic has continued to increase and in effect, created a staggering demand for aviation professionals. According to Plane and Pilot magazine, for every new pilot position about ten jobs are created on the ground. These include careers in marketing analysis, revenue management, airline and airport operations, aviation insurance underwriting, airport planning, consulting, communications, and many more such exciting and potentially lucrative fields. This is where a degree that includes a concentration in aviation, airport, or airline management would be a big plus.

The biggest obstacle to earning your first credential is knowing what you want to do. Having seen different paths in education and careers progression, it is apparent that life circumstances are the main drivers when choices have to be made. Often school leavers tend to learn what they like (or don’t like) and just move on from there. The only time their careers begin to move on is when they find a job they really enjoy doing.

People have the incentive to work hard when they know what they want. Obstacles are not as big as they seem if you have a goal in mind. If you want to be a pilot but don’t have the necessary finances to go ahead, you could get into an education program where flying is part of a curriculum or if you want to be an aircraft engineer or mechanic you should choose a programme that best simulates what aircraft technical persons do. Tying your education to a real life goal is important.

Today in Sri Lanka, there are lots of choices in the education market place, and it is up to you to choose wisely as you evaluate your options. Also as a consumer you need to recognize that aviation and other educational institutions are running a business. Thus they would be delighted to accept you not just because they are in the business of educating people but also because education is big money. Always talk to a credible person in the aviation industry before you enroll yourself in these institutions, so this way you may be advised on what to expect. For instance, if you want to be an airline pilot, talk to a senior pilot in one of the airlines and get his/her advice. It is your time and money, so always be fully aware before you invest.

As your career matures you will most likely need the knowledge that comes with additional rating, certifications and degrees. Be prepared to go “back to school” many times during your career! Also in aviation, certifications and rating are important credentials. These certificates prove that you have passed a test in basic knowledge and skills for the appropriate position. A pilot’s certificate means that you have demonstrated the general skills to fly and an aircraft engineer or mechanic certificate means you have demonstrated the general skills to work on aviation equipment. Further, any ratings that one adds to his/her certificates demonstrate proficiency in higher level or complex skills. (Eg: rating to fly specific types of airplanes and instrument ratings).
Future aviation graduates should be those who can think. This is why it is important to have an academic degree at the undergraduate, graduate and PhD level. This tells future employers something about your ability to think.

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