Airplane engineers – also called aeronautical engineers or flight engineers -- design, assess and oversee the manufacture of aircraft. Applying the principles of science and technology, they research materials and construction techniques, navigational and propulsion technologies to produce the highest quality craft within budget. Some engineers specialize in certain types of aircraft, such as military jets or cargo planes, while others focus on a particular area of the construction process, such as navigation, communications systems or landing mechanisms. Salary levels for the occupation will vary according to where and for whom an engineer works.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the purposes of its 2009 national employment survey, classified airplane engineers alongside their colleagues working in other areas of aerospace engineering – such as missiles and spacecraft. It calculated that across the profession, the average yearly wage was $96,270, which translates into a monthly income of $8,023 and an hourly rate of $46.29. Top earners – those amongst the highest 10 percent – received an average pay in excess of $137,730 a year, while individuals in the lowest bracket, the bottom 10 percent, earned an average of less than $59,500.
Pay by Industry
The BLS also detailed how salary levels vary between different sectors of the aerospace industry. Federal government agencies and scientific research and development services were among the sectors with the highest average salaries -- $108,820 and $108,760, respectively. Aerospace product and parts manufacturing was listed at $87,730. Navigational, measuring, electro-medical and control instruments manufacturing had an average of $97,920, compared to $105,350 within communications equipment manufacturing.
Pay by Location
Location influences an airplane engineer’s salary. The BLS reported that, across all industry sectors, Maryland and District of Columbia were the states where average salaries were highest -- $115,310 and $111,280, respectively. In Connecticut, the average was $85,530. Wage comparison website SalaryExpert.com analyzed flight engineer wages in some major U.S. cities and reported that, as of May 2011, Boston and Dallas had the highest averages -- $100,736 and $98,397, respectively – while Orlando was listed at just $63,328.
Bureau of Labor Statistics predictions put employment growth for aerospace engineers, including aircraft specialists, at around 10 percent for the decade from 2008 to 2018. This corresponds with estimates for the country as a whole, expected to grow by between 7 and 13 percent over the same time-frame. The need to apply new technologies to commercial and military aircraft will be the primary motivation for this growth, and salary levels should remain very competitive.