Aerospace engineering: industry sector overview
The main activities of an aerospace company are to research, design, manufacture, operate and maintain aircraft. All aircraft must meet regulations on safety and the environment, and be competitive in terms of costs and fuel efficiency. Customers include civil airlines and the military. A huge range of products is developed for the latter, including helicopters, fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned vehicles.
The aerospace industry is dominated by large, well established, global companies: Airbus and Boeing, who build aircraft, and General Electric, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls-Royce, who build engines. There are also numerous organisations involved in the supply chain, ranging from very small enterprises to large corporations. In the UK alone there are nearly 9,000 companies in the aerospace supply chain.
Trends and developments in the aerospace industry
The aerospace industry is global and as such is affected by global developments, such as recession and currency fluctuations, as well as more local events. Environmental impact relating to fuel consumption and noise is another aspect that is becoming increasingly important. The search for alternative fuel sources and development of new technology also feature in the news.
How aerospace projects and teams are structured
Projects tend to be complex and usually have very long lead times: most run for more than ten years. There is a strong emphasis on team organisation and structure. So, for example, an engineer might be part of a department specialising in a particular component of the engine, such as the turbine system. They would sit in a team relating to a particular field such as stress testing, design or supply. Their colleagues would all be carrying out the same job in relation to different projects and would be involved in the relevant integrated project teams.
Getting a graduate job in aerospace engineering
There are a variety of entry paths into the larger companies, including graduate training schemes and internships. Direct entry is also possible. Recruiters look for technical aptitude and a scientific, maths-based background. High value is also placed on non-technical transferable skills. These may include attention to detail, the ability to balance different and sometimes competing requirements simultaneously and the capacity to look at an issue from different perspectives. You need to be logical, methodical, unflappable and demonstrate common sense.
The highlights of a career in aerospace
- The work is technically fascinating. It’s not unusual to come across a problem and have to devise your own solution.
- The opportunities are very wide-ranging: from cutting edge research to servicing engines.
- It’s a prestigious, high profile industry with a significant impact.
The aerospace industry seeks graduates in
- power systems
Always check individual employers’ requirements.
Thanks to Gina Coventry for her help with this article. Gina is a combustor lifing specialist at Rolls-Royce. She is a chartered engineer with IMechE and studied engineering science at Oxford University, graduating in 2000.