Education and Training College, training, and license
Salary Median—$129,250 per year
Employment Outlook Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Flight engineers, sometimes called second officers, play almost as important a part in flying large aircraft as do pilots and copilots. Although they rarely take the controls to fly planes, flight engineers have many other responsibilities both on the ground and onboard aircraft.
Before a flight, the flight engineer inspects the outside of the plane to make sure there are no fluid leaks and that tires are inflated properly. If any problems are found, the engineer calls in mechanics to repair the plane.
Inside the aircraft, the flight engineer helps the pilot and copilot check the operation of more than a hundred instruments, including fuel gauges, oil pressure indicators, and switches to control wing flaps and landing gear. The flight engineer must also review the flight course and weather patterns to determine how much fuel should be loaded on the plane. If a plane is going to fly with a tailwind, it will need much less fuel than if it is going to be flying into a strong head wind.
Once the plane is airborne, the engineer advises the pilot, or captain, of any problems. The engineer monitors the instruments and may make minor repairs, such as replacing fuses. The flight engineer also records fuel consumption during the flight and makes note of the performance of the engines.
After the plane has landed, the flight engineer inspects the plane again to make sure all equipment is functioning properly. If problems arose during the flight, the engineer reports them to the mechanics. The last task is to turn in the flight log of the trip.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now requires that most three- and four-engine airplanes and two-engine jet airplanes have flight engineers. Therefore, almost all flight engineers work for the major airlines that fly many large planes. Flight engineers are usually based in large cities that have major airports. Many are stationed in New York, California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas.
Education and Training Requirements
High school diplomas are required, although most airlines prefer to hire applicants with at least two years of college education. Flight engineers must have good vision and hearing and normal color perception. Physical exams are administered before applicants are hired.
Flight engineers also need commercial pilot's licenses and flight engineer's certificates from the FAA. To qualify for this certificate, applicants must have completed two-year courses in aircraft and engine maintenance or have three or more years of experience in this area of aviation.
Applicants can also qualify with at least one hundred hours of experience as a flight engineer or two hundred hours of flight time as a pilot in command of an aircraft with four or more engines. Another way to qualify is to complete FAA-approved courses on ground and flight procedures. In addition, applicants must pass written examinations covering flight theory, engine and aircraft performance, fuel requirements, the effect of weather on engine operation, and maintenance procedures. In-flight exams, which test the ability to perform both normal and emergency procedures, are also required.
Getting the Job
Flight schools can offer job placement assistance. Internet job sites as well as the FAA Web site provide job listings. Job seekers can also apply directly to the personnel departments of the major airlines. The Air Transport Association of America provides a list of the main offices of the airlines on request.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement generally depends on flight engineers' qualifications and seniority. They can advance to copilot and pilot by obtaining the necessary licenses and flying the required number of hours.
Employment of flight engineers is expected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2014. Growth in this field will be limited because of the increasing use of computerized flight management systems. Many airlines are replacing older planes with newer models that do not require flight engineers.
The work involves a certain amount of risk, but new procedures and technology make airplane travel safer every day. Flight engineers, like others in the airline industry, have irregular schedules. Employment is steady, but they must fly on late-night, cross-country, and international flights quite often. They are away from home much of the time.
Earnings and Benefits
Because most flight engineers are members of unions, their wages and benefits are set by contract. However, earnings depend on the type of flight, hours and miles flown, type of plane, and length of service. In 2004 the median salary for airline pilots and flight engineers was $129,250 per year.
Where to Go for More Information
Air Line Pilots Association, International
1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
Air Transport Association of America
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004-1707
Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations
1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004
The families of flight engineers generally receive a certain amount of free air transportation or reduced fares. Benefits include paid sick leave, between two and four weeks of vacation, life and health insurance, and retirement benefits.