A career in aviation can provide fulfilling and exciting jobs and many positions do not require a college degree. While piloting a commercial jet might seem like the ultimate aviation career, it might not be to everyone’s liking and it’s just one of many high-paying aviation careers that don’t require a four-year degree.
Before we move past commercial piloting as a career, know that there is currently a large shortage of airline pilots, due in part to an aging workforce facing mandatory retirement and fewer pilots exiting the military, where a large number of commercial pilots get their training.
Becoming a pilot can be one of the highest-paying jobs in aviation. While it does not require a college degree, it does require extensive training and can be costly. Many find a path to becoming a pilot is best by going into the Air Force, where you can learn for free.
Becoming a professional pilot can require hundreds of hours of flight training, which often requires thousands of dollars to finance flights and certification requirements.
If you plan to become a pilot, keep in mind there is not a speedy process.
If you’re interested in getting started in aviation, Red Tail Academy is a Kansas City-based nonprofit aviation training program geared at bringing more underrepresented youth into the aviation industry, particularly as pilots.
Jeff Bolden, Red Tail Academy co-founder, recommends those interested in piloting first get their drone license to learn the basics of aviation language and flight signals, which can also lead to income.
“We’d start to prepare you for your drone license, where you can learn and take a test and actually get an FAA certification to be a drone pilot your sophomore year in high school,” Bolden said. “And that’s something you can get paid for starting at that point in time.”
Air Traffic Controller
Becoming an air traffic controller can be a lucrative profession with valuable benefits and there is currently a high demand for qualified candidates.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers ensure the safety of about two million aviation passengers per day. While some might associate air traffic controllers with stereotypical glass towers directing flights and speaking to pilots, air traffic controllers also work in control rooms away from airports and help organize flight patterns before airplanes ever take off.
The median salary for an entry-level air traffic controller is nearly $71,000 with salaries increasing with the completion of new training programs or experience in the field. The average pay nationally for a controller is $138,000, according to ZipRecruiter.com.
Candidates are selected for the national air traffic controller program, which is located in Oklahoma City. They are assigned to locations after they complete training.
The position does not require a degree, but if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, the requirement is “three years of progressively responsible work experience, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.”
Being an air traffic controller is a high-stress job that requires a high level of concentration. For an interested individual, the best way to determine if air traffic control is right for them is to start by shadowing someone in the position, recommends Bowden.
“Sitting with an air traffic controller in the tower and observing for an hour or two a day is what we’d recommend to get a feel if it’s right for them,” Bolden said. “It’s a great career and there are many opportunities out there but starting to explore if it’s the right position can be just as important.”
Transportation Systems Specialist
The FAA also employs Airway Transportation Systems Specialists that support the hardware and software that makeup the backbone of the nation’s airspace system.
These technicians install, operate, maintain and repair more than 74,000 pieces of radar, communications, navigational aids and airport lighting,and backup power, and HVAC equipment required to keep the nation’s aviation system operating
These aren’t jobs that require college degrees, but they do require specialized training.
Certified A&P Aircraft Mechanic
Another position certified by the FAA is an Airframe and Powerplan (A&P) Aircraft Mechanic, or AMT, another heavily in-demand and high-paying aviation position.
These mechanics are licensed to perform maintenance and alteration tasks on aircraft, including working on aircraft engines, landing gear, brakes and air-conditioning systems.
There are two paths to meeting the general training requirements for this license, either through on-the-job training or by attending a certified FAA mechanic training program. The certified training program can take 18 to 24 months to complete. The OJT route may be less expensive, but it can take longer, at least 30 months – but at least you’re still making a reasonably high level of pay while you train.
After completion of the training – either on-the-job or via a certified training program – becoming a certified aviation mechanic requires passing the FAA certification tests.
“Mechanics are in high demand and there are plenty of jobs available for mechanics,” Bolden said. “It’s a set of skills that is highly valuable, and, again, is available to kids right out of high school. Once these kids are graduated from the school, they get jobs immediately.”
The average salary for an AMT is nearly $57,000, depending on the organization, and rising quickly with existing demand.
Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Offer Great Starting Pay Without a Degree
With demand for workers up, Wichita’s large aviation employers have increased their starting pay for entry-level positions to at least $20 per hour or $41,600 per year.
Textron and SpiritAeroSystems are hoping this increase in pay will encourage more people to pursue careers in aerospace manufacturing in areas such as sheet metal assembly, composite fabrication and process mechanics.
Completing just an eight-to-10-week certification program helps set up a person for these well-paid positions. Certification programs worth considering are:
• Aviation Sheet Metal Assembly, Technical Certificate
• Composite Fabrication, Technical Certificate
• Process Mechanic (Paint), Technical Certificate
• CNC Operator, Technical Certificate
CNC operators manage computer-numeric-controlled equipment from setup to operation, producing parts and tools from different resources including metal and plastic.