Are you thinking about a career in aviation, but want to do something a little different? How about following the career path of a flight engineer?
While demand for flight engineers is indeed declining and getting into this career is difficult, to say the least, it’s great for people who enjoy practical and hands-on work and who want to make a decent salary.
If that sounds a lot like you, then keep reading and learn all about how to become a flight engineer, plus get all the deets about required skills, entry requirements and salary prospects!
1. Research the profession
The first step to becoming a flight engineer is to gain a clear and thorough understanding of what exactly the role entails. Below you’ll find an overview of job duties, key skills, working hours and salary information.
Flight engineers are often third in command of an aircraft, after the captain and first officer. Their role is primarily concerned with the operation and monitoring of all aircraft systems, as well as engines and fuel management. Their day-to-day duties and responsibilities typically include:
- Inspecting the aircraft, ensuring it is safe for use
- Completing a variety of pre-flight checks of the aircraft (including checking there are no fluid leaks or worn tires)
- Monitoring all the computer systems and checking for any abnormalities once the plane is airborne
- Reading the plane’s mechanical instruments (eg: fuel gauges, wing flaps, pressure indicators, etc)
- Discussing the pilot’s questions or concerns about a specific instrument and its operation
- Looking at weather patterns
- Determining the proper amount of fuel required for the flight
- Controlling the aircraft’s air conditioning, cabin airflow, engine power and main electrical system
- Flying the aircraft - if necessary
- Carrying out a thorough inspection of the plane once it has landed, and ensuring all components are functioning properly
- Submitting a completed flight log
- Filing a report of any problems that arose during the flight, and contacting the mechanics about any necessary repairs
Unfortunately, due to the emergence of automated computer programs capable of carrying out many of these tasks at a much lower cost, the role of flight engineers is slowly dying out.
On modern two-pilot flight deck aeroplanes, one pilot is responsible for flying the plane and the other is usually tasked with resolving the issues a flight engineer would normally deal with.
Having said that, flight engineers can still be found in the present day on airline or air freight operations using older aircraft and especially in the military.
Essential skills and qualities
You’ll typically need the following skills and qualities to work as a flight engineer:
- The ability to work under pressure and make decisions quickly
- High attention to detail
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Accuracy and efficiency
- Capacity to lead and to work as part of a team
- A top level of physical fitness
You’ll also generally need to have a background in flying aircraft and be adept at reading instruments, dials and other tools used in planes.
Working hours and conditions
There are no set working hours for this profession. You can expect to work on any day of the year, including weekends, evenings and public holidays. You will have to work long hours on long-haul flights, and you can expect to be away from home for extended periods of time.
The job comes with many health hazards, including:
- Fertility problems
- Increased cancer risk
- Jet lag
- Radiation exposure
You will typically be provided with a uniform by the airline you work for.
The average salary for flight engineers in the UK ranges between £45,000 and £97,000 per year.
You should note that flight engineers, along with airline pilots, were ranked the highest paid workers in the UK in 2014, with annual salaries averaging £90,410 – more than the typical CEO was earning (about £81,521).
2. Get the qualifications
You’ll generally need to obtain a bachelor’s degree to work as a flight engineer.
Some degree courses worth considering are:
- BEng (Hons) Aircraft Engineering with Pilot Studies (University of Salford Manchester)
- BEng Aviation Engineering (University of Sheffield)
- BSc (Hons) Aeronautical Technology (Staffordshire University)
You’ll also typically need to hold a professional pilot’s license.
3. Land your first job
As mentioned previously, recent technological advancements have eliminated the need for flight engineers on airliners and many modern military aircraft. However, that’s not to say there aren’t any jobs going. In fact, you may be able to find work for a company that operates older aircraft.
There are many job search strategies you can employ to find relevant opportunities, including:
- Checking company websites directly
- Exploring major job boards like Monster and Reed, as well as our very own CareerAddict Jobs
- Attending specialist job fairs in the aviation industry
You should also consider checking out the following websites, which are dedicated to aviation-related jobs:
You will generally be able to find work in the RAF or commercial airlines like British Airways, easyJet and TUI Group.
Because of the scarcity of opportunities, you may have to look for employment abroad.
Remember to support your job application with a well-written CV and stand-out cover letter. Don’t forget to check out our interview advice for choosing an outfit, practising common questions and researching the company you want to work for.
4. Develop your career
Your employer may require you to undertake further training in addition to your professional pilot’s license, including the Jet Orientation Course (JOC) rating.
If you’re not completely sold on the idea of becoming a flight engineer but still want to work in aviation, there are many other career options to consider both in the commercial sector and in the Royal Air Force, including:
- Aeronautical engineers – designing and developing aircraft and spacecraft
- Air traffic controllers – giving information and advice to airline pilots to help them take off and land aircraft safely and on time
- Aircraft mechanics – maintaining and repairing the avionic and mechanical equipment of aircraft
- Airline pilots – flying passengers and cargo to various destinations around the world
- Airport baggage handlers – loading and unloading luggage and cargo from aircraft
- Cabin crew – looking after airline passengers, ensuring they have a safe and pleasant flight
- Helicopter engineers – servicing and repairing helicopters
- Helicopter pilots – flying helicopters for business, leisure or emergency response
- RAF airman or airwoman – using specialist skills for mostly ground support roles in defence and peacekeeping missions
Are you training to become a flight engineer or are already working as one? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with fellow readers who are considering pursuing this potentially lucrative career? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
The salary information contained in this article is based on data compiled and published by various sources, including PayScale.
This article was originally published in July 2014.