How to become an aircraft engineer in 8 steps (with FAQs)

Updated 11 September 2023

If you're interested in aviation and have good computer technology and software skills, a career as an aircraft engineer may be rewarding. Aircraft engineers oversee the design and maintenance of planes and the systems on board. There are certain education and experience requirements necessary to become an aircraft engineer and learning them can help you determine whether this career aligns with your interests. In this article, we discuss what an aircraft engineer is and what they do, outline how to become an aircraft engineer and answer some frequently asked questions about the profession.

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What is an aircraft engineer?

An aircraft engineer is a science professional who researches, develops, designs and maintains aeroplanes and their components. They apply scientific principles to design specifications and use technology to assemble, test and modify various components. They may also aim to apply 'green' or eco-friendly features to aircraft to minimise their pollution and fuel consumption. Aircraft engineers also carry out performance testing, which involves inspecting and servicing aircraft. Their role involves using computer-aided design (CAD) software to complete design specifications and create aircraft models.

What does an aircraft engineer do?

The responsibilities of an aircraft engineer may vary according to their specialism, yet some general day-to-day duties include:

  • investigating problems with aircraft or the causes of accidents

  • monitoring and improving the performance of aircraft, components and systems

  • creating reports for clients and providing technical advice

  • researching the environmental impact of aircraft and taking action to minimise this

  • supervising the assembly of airframes

  • overseeing the installation of engines, instruments and other equipment

  • resolving problems that arise during the design, development and testing processes

  • maintaining aircraft to guarantee full operation

  • participating in flight-test programmes to measure take-off distances, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capacities

  • publishing the results of specific projects in technical report form

  • providing technical and regulatory advice to aircraft teams, suppliers and other aircraft professionals

Related: How to become an airline pilot (with salary and skills)

How to become an aircraft engineer

If you're passionate about engineering, you may want to know how to become an aircraft engineer. Learning these requirements can better help you determine whether this role is suitable for you. Steps on how to become an aeroplane engineer include:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The minimum education qualification necessary to become an aircraft engineer is a Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering or a related subject. Some other degree schemes to consider include:

  • electronic engineering

  • production or manufacturing engineering

  • applied physics

  • computer science

  • mathematics

  • software engineering

These courses teach you about aeronautics, physics, structural analysis and mechanics, which are fundamental topics related to the aviation industry. This knowledge helps you understand how to design, build and operate an aircraft. Plus, they teach you the different forces that keep it in the air. Be sure to check the entry requirements before applying to your chosen university, as they usually vary between courses and institutions. Most universities require you to have at least two A-Levels, or equivalents, between grades A* to C in relevant subjects. Some A-Levels courses to consider include maths, chemistry and physics.

Related: The guide to aeronautical vs aerospace sciences

2. Complete a master's degree

Some employers require architect engineer candidates to have a relevant postgraduate qualification. This is because an appropriate master's degree is necessary to register as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). If your bachelor's degree is in a different subject to those outlined above, a master's qualification is important to develop the right skills and knowledge. Consider earning a Master's in Aeronautical Engineering or Aerodynamics.

3. Choose a specialism

While you're completing your postgraduate studies, determine what area of aircraft engineering you're most interested in or passionate about. Some common specialisms include:

  • aerodynamics

  • avionics

  • propulsion

  • materials and structures

  • systems integration

Once you've chosen your specialism, choose course modules that allow you to focus in on that area. This proves useful when applying for aircraft engineering jobs in that niche.

Related: What does an aeronautical engineer do?

4. Gain pre-entry experience

Hiring managers require job candidates to have pre-entry experience before applying for aircraft engineer jobs. It's possible to earn this experience while completing your studies or once you're qualified. A good way to earn pre-entry experience is through engineering apprenticeships. These courses allow you to learn practical skills through on-the-job training while allocating time to your studies. Some relevant apprenticeships in the industry include electro-mechanical engineer, materials science technologist, power and propulsion gas turbine engineer and materials process engineer.

Note that certain employers may offer to pay your education costs when you complete an apprenticeship with them. Apprenticeships usually last around one or two years. Alternatively, consider completing a sandwich placement as part of your university degree. Reach out to your university's careers department to learn about potential industry opportunities. These placements are useful in making industry connections and helping source work as a graduate.

Related: How to become an air hostess (with definition)

5. Earn aviation licensure

It's mandatory to have an aviation license before working as an aircraft engineer. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is the organisation that promotes common safety standards and regulations in civil aviation. The organisation delegates authority to implement aviation protection and safety standards to The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). To earn an EASA license, you're required to complete between 50-55 hours of flight training and 150 hours of theory. Upon completion, your license is valid for five years, at which point it requires renewal. The CAA then assesses you to determine whether you're still fit to hold licensure.

Related: How to get a job in regulatory affairs (with definitions)

6. Apply for aircraft engineer jobs

Apply for aircraft engineer jobs once you have enough experience and the proper qualifications. Apply for job opportunities through company careers websites and online job sites. Consider expanding your search to encompass commutable areas to broaden your job opportunities. Make sure that you create a CV that aligns with the job description and tailor it for each position you apply for. Outline key achievements, responsibilities, skills and certifications that qualify you for the position. Check your CV for any grammatical, spelling or formatting errors before submitting it.

7. Prepare for security and physical checks

Aircraft engineers usually undergo psychometric testing before advancing into their position. Some employers may also require you to complete physical tests and eyesight tests. Since your work involves access to cyber and confidential information, expect to undergo a background security check. This involves vetting you and close family members to identify any criminal activity or problems.

8. Continue your professional development

It's important to continue your professional development as an aircraft engineer to stay up to date with technological developments and industry advancements. Participate in ongoing training opportunities and education courses. Larger companies usually offer structured training programmes for newly recruited engineers so that they can achieve chartered status with the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). Other employers may offer in-service training to help employees develop certain skills through short courses. Look for training schemes accredited by professional bodies in the industry, such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAES).

Skills for aircraft engineers to develop

Most aircraft engineers develop their skills throughout their education and training. Being aware of these skills ensures you target them in your CV and cover letter. Aircraft engineers need strong communication skills to educate clients and suppliers on regulations and technical principles. Written communications are also necessary to present project results in technical report form and in a way that others can understand. Good creative skills help aircraft engineers use and implement cutting-edge technology into their aircraft and component designs. This also requires them to have advanced research skills so they can keep up with technological advances in the field.

Related: How much do aerospace engineers make? (With job info)

What is the work environment of an aircraft engineer?

Aircraft engineers can work in several environments. Some common ones include offices, aeronautical laboratories, and factory production hangars. They work in laboratories when carrying out design work, which often means working with technical computer visualisation software and tools. Aircraft engineers are sometimes required to travel to other industrial companies to test and examine aircraft as necessary. This is usually the case when aircraft breaks down on-site and is immovable.

Who are some common employers of aircraft engineers?

Aircraft engineers primarily work for airline operator companies, yet some other employers include component manufacturing companies and aircraft regulators, such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Some aircraft engineers work in the British Army, Royal Air Force (RAF) or Royal Navy, working to create specialist aircraft and equipment. Others may choose to take on a more research-based role, working with government institutions to make technological discoveries and keep track of advancements. Some government departments they can work with include the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Related: How to become a royal air force pilot: a step-by-step guide

What's the difference between an aeronautical engineer and an aerospace engineer?

Aeronautical engineers work on aircraft that operate within the earth's atmosphere. They usually work for airline operators, component manufacturing companies and other general aviation companies. Aerospace engineers research, develop, design and maintain aeroplanes that have the potential to operate outside the earth's atmosphere in space. These professionals may work for the military, scientific organisations or government departments.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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