Aerospace engineer salary

The aerospace engineer salary situation is not brilliant, but neither is it terrible.

Unfortunately (for the aerospace engineer), there are good reasons why your salary will never be huge.

If you work in a resource-based sector (e.g. oil & gas, mining, precious metals), company profitability is very much tied to the market price of the substance in the ground that you are attempting to uncover and refine. The product is oil, gas, gold, etc, but the VALUE to the end-consumer is the ability to stay warm on a cold winter night, to have jewellry and technology consumer products, etc. The technical work to get there is not generally particularly cool or sexy.

If you work in a sector that could be loosely described as infrastructure, your company profitability is very much tied to the willingness of authorities to pay you for the piece of infrastructure you are creating. Their willingness to pay is very much driven by the willingness of taxpayers to support this activity (and if the authorities are elected, to vote for them!). Once again, the technical work to get there is not generally particularly cool or sexy.

The products might be bridges, roads, buildings, electrical power networks. The VALUE to the end-consumer is convenience, speed and comfort.

Aerospace is caught in the middle. The products are aircraft and spacecraft. The technical work to get there HAS, historically, been perceived as very cool and sexy, i.e. lots of people wanted to do it. The operating cost of building an aircraft or spacecraft is very tied to the market price of fuel (read: oil), and the production cost is tied to the market prices of the materials (e.g. metals) of which the aircraft or spacecraft is made.

The value to the end-consumer is the ability to travel somewhere safely, quickly, and in reasonable comfort, or (in the case of space satellites) to transmit information quickly, cheaply and conveniently.

That value is fickle.

If the cost of fuel skyrockets suddenly, and airlines start charging more for flights, people suddenly find alternate means of transport, or just cancel their plans to travel. Too expensive. If a terrorist somewhere blows up a skyscraper, or does anything to raise the spectre of fear in the minds of passengers . . . . . the passengers cancel their plans to travel. Even without such events, many passenger are terrified of flying, and do so only of necessity.

At the same time, lots of youngsters still find aircraft cool, and want to design them or fly them or work with them. There is something about flight that human beings find fascinating, such that even governments will spend huge amounts of money on anything related to flight.

Anytime a new country is created somewhere in the world, the first thing that government will create is a new flag, the second a national anthem, and the third, a national airline. Those three things seem to be indelibly associated with a nation’s brand in the world.

So there has historically been a steady stream of job-seekers to aerospace companies, begging to be allowed to work there.

Add to the mix the fact that the industry is highly regulated. Virtually every aspect of the design of an aircraft or spacecraft must be documented very carefully, in the event of an audit by an airworthiness authority. And the lead time for a new design, from concept to Entry Into Service, is typically a decade. (Compare that with a new oil well, which can be drilled and producing oil in a matter of months.)

As a result, the aerospace industry, despite being dominated by private enterprises, functions very much like a civil service. Not great pay. Sometimes long hours (though not normally). Opportunities for career advancement don’t come along quickly.

Conclusion: Don’t go into the industry on the basis of what you think an aerospace engineer salary should be. You’ll be disappointed.

Having said that, if after a few years of experience, you opt to go freelance, and are willing to work wherever opportunities arise, you can do fairly well over the long term. I have been freelance for over 4 years now, and it’s paid off nicely for me.

Google aerospace engineer salary to find links to sites that suggest current aerospace salary information for you location. Use them as a rough guide, and not a guarantee.

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