The industry offers an incredible range of aviation jobs, going way beyond pilots and flight attendants. Airports employ thousands of people in front of house and behind the scenes. Ground and flight operations are massive subsectors, and there are critical supporting roles in security, engineering and research.
Many aviation jobs require high levels of competence because of the technical nature of the industry, as well as serious safety and cost implications. Therefore, appropriate professional skillsets are critical to working in aviation.
This article takes you through the top 15 skills needed for a job in aviation, why they are important and which roles they align to.
In many aviation roles, such as flight crew, cabin crew and air traffic control, clear communication can be a matter of life and death. The person must ensure that instructions are clearly understood. There is specific language and jargon to learn and a need to communicate face to face, as well as remotely.
In and around airports, communication is also vital for keeping these busy hubs functioning. Ramp and baggage crews, security agents, and terminal workers all need to communicate effectively to stay on top of their demanding workloads and interact with internal and external customers from all walks of life.
2. Analytical thinking
Aviation jobs involving the manoeuvring and organisation of airplanes and people require analytical thinking. Air traffic controllers need exceptional analytical skills and spatial awareness to organise planes in the air and minimise delays on the ground, as do pilots when plotting flight plans.
Airline reservations agents also need to organise and analyse passenger loads and seating to maximise revenue. Law enforcement, such as airport police, customs clerks and security control, all need to analyse risk and act appropriately in varying situations.
Aviation is very much a service industry, and many roles require exceptional interpersonal skills. Flight attendants must provide great service to all passengers and be able to interact with and influence those who might be rude and be able to give clear directions when needed.
Workers in airport lounges, shops and restaurants must ensure customers and passengers are looked after, often to five-star standards. Customs and security agents also use interpersonal skills to diffuse inflammatory situations.
Teamwork has many applications in the aviation field, especially in the large organisational framework of airports or in cabin crew, where coordination of large groups of people is the key to success. If people in the aviation industry don’t work as a team, things can go wrong very quickly.
Teamwork is especially valued in aviation mechanics and engineering, where technical skillsets need to be brought together to ensure the upkeep and maintenance of complicated systems and machinery.
Much of the aviation industry operates on shift-based rotas in dynamic environments. Airport workers, such as retail, baggage or hospitality staff, need to respond to ever-changing workloads and short-lead demands. Flight operations employees, like pilots or air traffic controllers, need to be comfortable with last-minute changes and making decisions on the fly — no pun intended!
6. Time management
In the USA, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that delays to flights cost $22 billion annually. Time is literally money. If an aircraft is even only a few minutes late arriving or departing, they are fined a certain amount per passenger, because of the knock-on effects this can cause airports and airspace. Therefore, everyone working in commercial aviation must be exceptionally competent in managing their time.
Pilots must arrive at the airport hours before their flight, and more are ‘on call’ at home, expecting to be called in at a moment’s notice. Ground crews must expedite their tasks to minimise delays, and even workers in the airport itself must be able to work swiftly to process people efficiently.
7. Problem solving
Air traffic controllers utilise exceptional problem-solving skills to move and position aircraft according to ever-changing priorities. Pilots are also faced with minor problems during a flight and must be able to swiftly consult their training and aircraft manuals to respond.
In all these cases, these problems are not just concerned with safety, they are also about operating efficiency, which in aviation, comes with costly financial implications.
Many aviation management roles operate within high-risk or high-pressure environments, meaning that leadership is a critical skill to have. Senior pilots, such as captains, must be able to direct the flight and cabin crew in all routine and emergency matters. Air traffic control team leaders need to ensure their team is performing at 100% for every minute of the shift.
Managers working in airports, such as retail managers, senior security officers or baggage handler leaders must also motivate and inspire their team to deliver excellent results in extremely busy environments.
9. Emotional intelligence
Ground workers, such as those on airport check-in desks, baggage handling, retail and hospitality, and security control, require exceptional emotional intelligence skills. The same applies to flight attendants.
These workers operate on the front line, often dealing with passengers who are upset or frustrated. They must be able to empathise with passengers, calm them down and respond to their complaints, no matter how unreasonable they are being.
10. Attention to detail
Aviation is all about exact margins and impeccable service. Flight attendants and lounge workers working with first-class passengers must deliver a detailed and bespoke service worthy of a five-star hotel.
Aviation engineers and mechanics must ensure their work is spot-on and conducted to the highest standard to ensure aircraft and systems are safe and do not need unnecessary or expensive maintenance.
11. Customer service
Passenger-facing aviation roles require impeccable customer service skills. These roles can include flight attendants, airport customer service workers, reservations agents, lounge attendants and security employees.
Passengers are often subject to ranges of factors within and out of their control, such as travel-related stress, delays or lost property. Using customer service skills will mitigate many of these pressures and ensure passengers have as smooth an experience as possible.
The precise nature of aviation requires good numeracy skills in many roles. Pilots and air traffic controllers will rely on computers to manage data but will still need numeracy skills to effectively process distance and feed information into the systems. Aviation engineers and mechanics will rely on detailed calculations and measurements to perform their roles correctly.
13. Foreign languages
Language skills are, of course, widely useful in an international industry such as aviation. Many airport jobs, such as airport staff, flight attendants and air traffic controllers, are in many cases required to be multilingual so they can interact effectively with the various passengers and pilots from all corners of the world.
Decision-making skills are critical in aviation because of the high-pressure, short-lead nature of situations which might occur, as well as the safety and cost implications of them. Pilots and air traffic controllers need to make decisions under incredible duress and with split-second analysis of variables. These skills are frequently reassessed in realistic simulations.
Aviation jobs often require incredible self-discipline and an awareness that the job will often come before anything else. Air traffic controllers and pilots are subject to strict controlled substance policies and are required to have a certain number of hours of sleep before their shifts. Security mandates in airports mean that for any employee, a simple policy infringement or legal misdemeanour can mean the end of their career in a heartbeat.
Many aviation roles, such as being a pilot, require years of training and self-discipline in terms of studying, and preparation is therefore essential.
Skills needed for a job in aviation are similar to other industries, but also require exceptional competency in critical areas, which reflects the pressurised, safety- and detail-oriented nature of many roles in this exciting and demanding sector.
If you are looking for a career in the aviation industry, or even a logistics job, then it’s vital you research which skills are needed in the jobs you are interested in, checking that you align to requirements and prepare examples of where you have used these skills, so you can add them to your application, résumé or cover letter and give examples of them when you are called to an interview.
Do you work in the aviation industry? What skills do you feel are important? Let us know in the comments below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 15 Jan 2015.