Our guide to aviation
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to aviation

First published date November 15 2013 Amended date November 15 2013

We’ve all pretended to fly a toy plane as a child or dreamt of visiting various dream destinations across the world, so why not make those globetrotting goals a reality? Whether you’re keen to pursue a behind the scenes role working for an airline or have ambitions of controlling the cockpit as a pilot, we’ll have an aviation course for you.


The dream career?

Getting paid to travel across the world may seem like the perfect profession, but there’s much more to life in the aviation industry than just exploring new countries. Training for a career in the air industry tends to be very pricey and can often take huge amounts of time, even longer if you’re an aspiring pilot or traffic controller where extra training is needed.

When you have qualified in the role you’ve chosen, there can be huge amounts of unpredictability in the day-to-day work you’ll do, with air cabin crew for many airlines getting switched at short notice to different flights. Traditionally, there’s also a noticeable gender divide between some of the roles in the aviation industry, with the majority of the cabin crew tending to be female and a large percentage of baggage handlers being male, although obviously this isn’t always the case.


How to get started

Depending on which area of the aviation industry you’re interested in, the amount of training and level of qualification you need varies massively. Some of the major airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, offer apprentice schemes for school leavers, which provides on the job training as part of their respective operations teams alongside further study.

For those aiming for a position in customer service or as part of the cabin crew, a degree isn’t a necessity, although many do study  languages or tourism management to try and give them an advantage. With both of those career routes, specialist BTEC and City & Guilds qualifications are available to get you started. Becoming a pilot is much more complex, with a series of levels and experience based guidelines to progress through to reach the highest qualification of ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot Licence), which enables you to fly any commercial plane.


Plane progression

We take air travel for granted nowadays, with many of us using ‘no frills’ airlines to jet off across the UK and beyond on a budget, while others visit far flung countries on comfortable long haul flights. It seems remarkable to think that less than a century ago, steam trains were the most common way to travel around the UK and onto the continent, while the only way you could have made a trans-Atlantic trip was via boat. Here are three big moments that have helped the rapid air travel revolution:

1976 (the introduction of Concorde) – Powerful jet engines were used in the first supersonic transport, with aircraft travelling at speeds of over 1300 miles per hour, more than double the speed of sound. As a result, journey times were significantly cut, with trips from London to the US taking little over three hours. The flights stopped in 2003 after a reduction in passenger numbers, but to this day its legacy lives on.

1990s (the rise of the budget airline) – By offering cheap flights throughout Europe from a growing number of airports, budget airlines have made travelling abroad much more affordable for passengers. We all know about the hidden costs for bags and the like, but how else could you get a ticket to the Mediterranean for under £30?

2004 (the launch of Virgin Galactic) – Richard Branson’s team are taking air travel to a new level, with the launch of commercial flights to space. Developing and testing has been going on for nearly a decade, but the billionaire hopes that his programme is now nearly ready for take off. Several celebrities have already booked their places on the flights, which cost $250,000, with the first trips expected in early 2014.


Flight facts

There are nearly 140,000 people working in the aviation industry in the UK (the equivalent to the population of York)

.  In 2012, over 220 million passengers were handled at UK airports, with nearly 1.9 million flights either taking off or landing in the UK

Aviation employees are on average 40 years old

.  Four of the UK’s five busiest airports are based in and around London (London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted and London Luton)

Sources: National Career Service and Civil Aviation Authority

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