When it comes to jobs in aviation, most people tend to think pilot. But with nearly 100 million people employed in the aviation industry in some form or another, not all of them can be pilots. So what are the best jobs in aviation that aren’t a pilot?
Table of Contents
As what could be considered the “best” job is highly subjective and varies from person, we have based this list on several factors, including:
- Average pay
- Other benefits
- Overall work-life balance
- Promotion/career advancement prospects
- Job location (dispersed vs concentrated) and associated quality of life
- The total number of ex-pilots and avgeeks in the profession
- Views of people in those jobs (based on reviews by those in the profession)
Because we’re focusing on non-pilot aviation jobs, we won’t be including any jobs that are even remotely pilot-related. This means no “Pilot YouTuber” or “Ground Instructor” where you almost have to be a pilot or have a similar background to get the job (and/or make it successful!)
Air Crash Investigator
A sad reality of aviation is that aircraft do crash, and more often than you’d probably think. This is where air crash investigators (ACIs), also sometimes known as air accident investigators (AAIs), come in.
No matter how clear-cut the cause of a crash may be, ACIs still need to be brought in to investigate them, to discover their causes and the events leading up to the crash.
For the most part, ACIs work for government departments like the NTSB in the US or the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in the UK, however, a select few can work as outside consultants, usually in a more specialist capacity.
The role of an ACI is quite linear. They are assigned to a specific aircraft shortly after a crash, where they begin by compiling data from the crash site itself. Once this has been done, the aircraft is then relocated to a hangar for more in-depth investigation.
Using things like the flight data recorder (FDR; also known as an aircraft’s “black box”), cockpit voice recorder and other forensic information, ACIs recreate the events leading up to the crash and pinpoint the exact cause.
They then write and publish a report on their findings and if necessary, can issue airworthiness directives for improvements an aircraft fleet needs to make (such as, fixing something causing multiple fatal crashes) and ground an entire type if an aircraft is deemed enough of a threat.
Whilst this is certainly on the darker side of aviation, and not for everybody, being an air crash investigator is great for those with a deep passion for aviation, a rich knowledge of different types of aircraft and a knack for solving puzzles.
- Pay: $65,000 per year (average)
- Work Week: about 40-45 hours per week
- Job Satisfaction: 6.5/10
Also sometimes called an aircraft dispatcher or flight operations officer in some countries, a flight dispatcher’s job is a mixture of admin, geography and math with a sprinkling of intermittent chaos.
The main job of a flight dispatcher is to coordinate the flights of a specific airline. If working for a large airline, they and their colleagues are typically in charge of all the flights at a specific airport, whilst those working for smaller airlines may cover the airline’s entire operations.
Working out of an office on the airport grounds, flight dispatchers help pilots with flight paths, plan the loading of the aircraft (eg. do the weight and balance for the aircraft) and ensure it is turned around within the non-fineable time slot allocated by the airport.
In many countries, flight dispatchers must now take a written test issued by their country’s aviation authority (eg. the FAA in the US) to have the role.
The nerve-racking part of the job comes about due to the fact that flight dispatchers have half the legal responsibility for the safety of the flight, alongside the pilots.
This means that if the flight goes down because it doesn’t have enough fuel to reach its destination or is above its MTOW, the flight dispatcher could be in as much legal danger as the pilots. That being said, due to modern redundancies, it’s more an irrational fear than a likelihood.
- Pay: $60,000 per year (average)
- Work hours: about 45 hours per week
- Job Satisfaction: 7/10 (around 6/10 for new flight dispatchers)
Ok, full disclosure: This one’s kind of cheating.
The reason for that is even though you can get the job without a pilot’s license, having one increases your chances of getting the job by up to 50% according to some aircraft sales companies. And plus, it would also make your job so much easier too!
An aircraft salesman is someone whose job it is to buy and sell typically used aircraft. Kind of like a used car salesman but for aircraft (except not really).
Whilst the big money for aircraft salesmen is by selling private jets, the majority of them buy and sell other fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, where turnover can be lower but cash flow is much higher.
Most aircraft salesmen tend to work for an aircraft sales firm/brokerage, however, some do choose to go out on their own.
Where being a pilot comes in handy would be when it comes to flying the aircraft you’re selling to different conventions, air shows and meet-and-greets. As a pilot, you’d be able to fly the aircraft there yourself (assuming you were type rated to that model; if necessary).
The ability to not only talk with potential customers about the aircraft you’re selling, but take serious buyers for a flight in it too is something that would certainly help you, though most large aircraft sales firms have their own pilots for this, so technically you don’t need to be a pilot to do this.
- Pay: $50,000 per year (average base pay) + 1.5% commissions
- Work hours: 35-45 hours per week (could be more of traveling)
- Job Satisfaction: 7/10
Just like cars, aircraft have to be well-maintained to avoid crashes and stay in tip-top shape. Whilst some pilots may know how to make basic repairs, most don’t.
And this is where aircraft mechanics come in. Much like their automotive counterparts, aircraft mechanics do almost everything; from fixing a flap that’s a bit loose to refitting the entire wing and everything in between.
Due to the considerable differences between the different types of aircraft, aircraft mechanics must have specific certifications to work on different types of aircraft, and in some cases, different parts of aircraft (eg. the engines or avionics systems).
That being said, the broadness of the term “aircraft mechanic” also includes aircraft inspectors, whose job it is to do a full mechanical inspection of the aircraft to ensure everything is working perfectly at least once per year.
Based on current data, whilst the majority of aircraft mechanics work in general aviation, the majority of the best-paying aircraft mechanic jobs are found working in a commercial setting for airlines, or at the very top, in a business aviation setting around private jets.
- Pay: $86,000 per year (average)
- Work hours: 40-42 hours per week
- Job Satisfaction: 7.5/10
If you don’t want to be a pilot, but still want the full airline-flying experience, then being a flight attendant might be the route to go down.
Chiefly, the role of a flight attendant is to supervise and ensure the safety of all everyone on the aircraft, from the minute the first passenger steps onboard the aircraft to minute the last passenger steps off. This includes passengers, pilots and fellow cabin crew.
Other typical flight attendant duties include the typical roles we associate with flight attendants: helping passengers find their seat(s), ensuring passengers have enough to eat and drink (as appropriate), handling overly rowdy passengers etc.
In countries where an airborne law enforcement agency like the Federal Air Marshal Service is active, flight attendants will also have to coordinate with them and alert the pilots, for the safety of everyone onboard.
Although flight attendants are mostly associated with those we see when we fly commercially, there is currently a growing market for flight attendants among large private jets like the G650 and/or so-called “Bizliners” like the Airbus ACJ and Boeing BBJ families.
- Pay: $30,000 per year (average)
- Work hours: about 40 hours per week (depending on flight schedule)
- Job Satisfaction: 8/10
Air Traffic Controller
One of the most popular aviation jobs among ex-pilots is working as an air traffic controller.
Contrary to popular belief, being an air traffic controller isn’t just about sitting in front of a radar screen all day. Quite the opposite in fact, that’s just one type of air traffic controller you could be.
Indeed, rather than stare at the green dots on a radar screen for eight hours per day, you could coordinate movement on the ground to ensure taxiing aircraft don’t crash into each other, or into one being towed by a tug.
Or, you could help coordinate approaching aircraft (yes, this does include some radar work, however, not as much as the radar-focused departure ATC most people associate with air traffic controllers), helping to ensure
Most air traffic controllers are employed directly by the airport they work at (or a specialist Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP) that’s been subcontracted by the airport for this). In some places, all ATC work may be done by the local government or government-owned company such as NATS in the UK.
Whilst starting pay might leave something to be desired (around $25,000 in many places), the relatively high demand for air traffic controllers means pay increases considerably after only a few years’ experience. The most experienced air traffic controllers can earn well over $150,000!
- Pay: $61,000 per year (average)
- Work hours: 37-45 hours per week
- Job Satisfaction: 8.5/10
Air Charter Broker
When wealthy people want to fly on a private jet but don’t want to splash out several million dollars for their own jet, they charter (rent) one instead with the help of a broker.
The role of an air charter broker is often likened to a mix between a sales representative and VIP concierge all dressed up like a travel agent.
Their job is to understand their clients’ travel needs, find out what additional requirements they have for the flight (which can often be highly-specific, somewhat weird and very expensive), negotiate with operators for the best price, book hotels and ground transfers, all whilst gaining new clients and retaining old ones.
Perhaps the best thing about this job is that unlike many other aviation jobs, you don’t need a degree, high school diploma (though that would help) or any prior experience working in the industry.
In fact, most brokerage firms prefer to hire people straight out of school who can demonstrate some knowledge of, and a deep passion for, the business aviation sector. This way they can assign you to an experienced broker who can teach you everything you need to know rather than unteaching “bad” habits.
Plus, you get to rub elbows with the world’s rich and famous who call you whenever they need to travel and to meet them face-to-face when they do. If you need to travel long-distance to do this, you might also find yourself flying on private jets too!
With experts estimating that the number of millionaires is set to double over the next decade, you’ll have more than enough new clients to keep you in demand.
- Pay: $59,000 per year (average) + commissions (varies from brokerage to brokerage, but could be as much as 1% of the total flight cost)
- Work hours: about 40 hours per week but may have to work after hours to suit clients’ needs as appropriate
- Job Satisfaction: 9/10
Aerospace Medical Examiner (AME)
Assuming you wanted to take more of a medical route, and one whose pay is less susceptible to economic changes, the role of an Aerospace Medical Examiner (AME) might be for you.
Under current FAA rules, all commercial pilots under 40 must have a medical at least once per year, whilst those over 40 must have a medical every six months. Similarly, other types of pilots (eg. PPL holders) must have a medical at different intervals based on their age, rating etc.
These medicals aren’t done by any doctor, but one who specializes in aviation medicine.
Whilst AMEs are fully-licensed doctors in most cases, their knowledge is primarily focused on ensuring the body is fit to fly, and ensuring that flying hasn’t damaged the body (particularly in regards to eyesight and circadian rhythms).
As a general rule, AMEs work for individual airlines serving all their pilots in a given location. Some AMEs also work for other aviation organizations like flight schools (typically the larger ones) to certify their students as well.
To ensure airlines and flight schools don’t pressure their AMEs into signing off every (student) pilot that visits them, regulators like the FAA have their own AMEs for spot-checking purposes as well.
- Pay: $150,000 per year (average)
- Work hours: 48 hours per week
- Job Satisfaction: 9/10
With the aviation industry set to grow by roughly 50% over the next decade, the demand for specialist knowledge from aviation companies will grow considerably.
The role of somebody in an aviation advisory/consulting role is hugely specialized and touches every sub-niche of the aviation industry, whether it’s compliance with government regulations, business consultancy or contract/client acquisition.
Aviation advisers/consultants generally have some kind of working background in their niche, which has given them the expertise they have in their niche and the contacts to back it up.
For instance, aviation business consultants may have run a variety of different aviation businesses in the past, or compliance consultants may have previously worked for regulatory bodies like the FAA.
Unlike many of the other non-pilot aviation jobs we’ve discussed, most aviation advisory and consultancy positions are on a self-employed/contract basis, meaning your earnings are uncapped and you can work only the hours you want.
To incentivize your best work, many of your clients (especially the larger ones) will pay you a fixed fee and add other benefits, such as bonuses and/or stock options, based on performance.
- Pay: uncapped earnings + other benefits
- Work hours: 40-45 per week typical; could be more or less depending on workload)
- Job Satisfaction: 9.5/10