Going up in the world

Airlines offer a wide range of graduate positions, in and out of the cockpit
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The Independent Online

Although the legacy of 11 September 2001 has severely depleted the number of new graduate jobs in the airlines business, aerospace as a whole remains of great importance to the UK economy. With high-profile and costly developments such as the building of Terminal 5 and the Eurofighter Typhoon project, it is unlikely, says the Royal Aeronautical Society, that the multibillion pound airlines business will stay in recruitment limbo in the long term.

Aerospace is a highly diverse and still glamorous sector which employs some 147,000 people directly and another 350,000 indirectly in a range of technical, non-technical and managerial jobs that include anything from specialised engineering jobs such as aircraft maintenance and avionics engineering to HR, marketing and of course flying itself.

More than 32 per cent of all employees in the sector - which is among the largest in Europe - are educated to degree level or above and a fair proportion of them transfer each year from the RAF and other parts of the military to the commercial passenger sector; though fewer move the other way. Once inside the industry, it is relatively simple to move from one specialism to another.

While becoming an airline pilot is the obvious career path for a latter-day Biggles with A1 eyesight and a flair for technology, the range of jobs outside the cockpit is very wide. The Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC) estimates that 1,250 new graduate-level entrants are required by the aerospace industry each year, with engineering, air traffic control and airline pilot at the top of the wish list for many technically gifted graduates.

For those wishing to keep their feet on terra firma, there are also jobs in support level functions such as marketing, finance, sales, communications and of course management, where many graduates look to develop a career in running the multi-million pound business itself, rather than simply concentrating on actual flights. Multilingual, travel-hungry or even undecided graduates may be just as drawn to the world of the cabin crew.

Away from passengers and in the bowels of the plane, the job of a control and instrument engineer is a highly specialised one. For those with an engineering degree, the task is to research, identify, design, install, develop, test and maintain complex control systems and ensure that the various manufacturing processes deployed by the aircraft are operating efficiently and safely.

David Nicoll, head of marketing and communications at the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance (SEMTA), says: "The overall trends for aerospace recruitment have been downwards, but for graduates with good work experience - particularly at a cutting-edge manufacturing plant - the world really is their oyster."

The control and instrument engineer is also responsible for the instrumentation, electronics and computers that control today's highly automated aircraft and may become involved, too, in intricate technical design project work. Entry is usually via the airline's own apprenticeship scheme.

In contrast to a specialist control and instrument engineer, the aeronautical engineer researches, designs, maintains and improves the performance of military as well as civil aircraft overall. His, or increasingly her, role tends to fall into one of three categories: chartered engineers (CEng), who have overall managerial responsibility for projects; incorporated engineers (IEng), with day-to-day responsibility for problem-solving and team supervision; and engineering technicians (EngTech), who manufacture and assemble components.

A number of aeronautical engineers also specialise in a particular aspect of aerospace such as thermodynamics, propulsion or designing software for aircraft control systems. The majority of them work for aircraft manufacturers, airlines and the armed forces. In employer terms, this technical sector of flying is dominated by giants such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, who, says Nicoll, "are keen to shake-off the 'jobs for the boys' image of aerospace engineering which sees just 12 per cent of the 150,000 or so jobs in aerospace manufacture being held by women."

With the entire engineering sector suffering in recent years from an acute skills shortage, there is now a whole range of government and industry initiatives aimed at boosting graduate applications to aerospace and science or technology in general.

While the prospect of becoming a steward or stewardess won't appeal to all graduates, a cabin crew position has the advantage of extensive travel and sheer unpredictability in terms of the hours and shifts. For those with a flair for languages, becoming part of the cabin crew offers the chance to practise linguistic skills on international travellers and may be the stepping stone to a more intellectually challenging role. For some airlines, fluency in a second language is a must-have.

Salaries aren't particularly generous, typical starting salaries not going much higher than £10,000-£13,000, but in addition to the basic pay, there are flight allowances, commission and generous travel subsidies as well as internationally renowned staff parties.

British Airways froze its graduate training programme in October 2000, but a spokesman says it is keeping that decision under constant review. When it did run, the 30-month course offered the candidates to sample a range of management jobs from duty manager at a terminal to posts in communications and marketing. Being our national carrier, BA is still an obvious destination for all would-be civil pilots to aim for, but there are more than 200 firms employing pilots in the UK. These include the other scheduled airlines such as Ryanair, chartered airlines such as Britannia and freight airlines such as Viking Aviation. General Aviation is the largest employer of pilots, including commercial flying schools, large firms operating their own fleet of aeroplanes and air taxi operators.

In order to fly as an airline pilot, candidates need an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) - which not only requires 195 hours of flying training, but also involves a minimum 750 hours of theory. Having been granted a "frozen" ATPL, the would-be pilot needs to notch up a full 1,500 hours of flying experience in order to steer a commercial plane. Strict medical and aptitude tests are an important prerequisite to any training and all pilots require mental agility, physical fitness, good communication skills and the ability to respond decisively in an emergency. The height range is 5'2" to 6'3", with weight in proportion.

Although most modern aircraft have computerised flying control systems which largely fly the plane, the role of the pilot is still paramount. It's a highly competitive field, and a male-dominated one, and whether based in commercial passenger flights or the military, the pilot still has the most glamorous role in flying.

The three key routes to pilot training are: enrolling on a course at a flying school approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - they include the Oxford Aviation Training School and the Bedford-based CABAIR College of Air Training, where fees can range from £55,000 to £100,000; enlisting in the RAF and then undertaking a conversion course; or applying to an airline which offers sponsored training at a school either in the UK or abroad - easyJet has trained pilots in New Zealand, and BA has used a school in Spain - but since 11 September 2001, the opportunities for such sponsorship have become more limited.

Air traffic control

More than 6,000 aircraft fly through UK airspace every day, says Richard Wright, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which employs 4,400 people including 2,000 operational air traffic controllers.

The job of air traffic control is to guide airline pilots safely and efficiently as they approach, land, take off and taxi down the runway using radar, radio communication systems and a highly-complex data-processing operation covering each and every flight.

All air traffic controllers, whether graduates or not, go on the same NATS training course; which imposes a minimum entry requirement of five GCSEs including English and maths and has an age range of 18 to 30. All applicants must be security cleared to work in the UK.

Training is undertaken at the College of Air Traffic Control, next to Bournemouth International Airport, and lasts 18 months. Trainee air traffic controllers, as they are then known, are posted to operational units where they receive further on-the-job training.

Typically, trainee controllers are based at one of the major area control centres in West Drayton - for airspace in England and Wales - or Prestwick for Scottish airspace. There is a further sub-station based in Manchester.

Although there is no specific graduate entry scheme for air traffic controllers, Richard Wright says that at least 10 graduates a year are recruited to a specialist engineering training scheme designed to support the work of air traffic control.

The Direct Entry Graduate (DEG) scheme starts with seven weeks of initial training at the new NATS corporate and technical centre at the Solent Business Park and lasts for two years. Graduate engineers, who are on course for chartered status once the course is finished, can choose between systems or software engineering and operational research.

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