IPA Provides Useful Information about the Aerospace Industry
Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing
- Skilled production, professional, and managerial jobs comprise the bulk of employment.
- Earnings are substantially higher, on average, than in most other manufacturing industries.
NATURE OF THE INDUSTRY
The aerospace industry comprises companies producing aircraft, guided missiles, space vehicles, aircraft
engines, propulsion units, and related parts. Aircraft overhaul, rebuilding, and parts also are included.
Firms producing transport aircraft make up the largest segment of the civil (non-military) aircraft portion
of the industry. Civil transport aircraft are produced for air transportation businesses such as airlines
and cargo transportation companies. These aircraft range from small turboprops to jumbo jets and are used
to move people and goods all over the world. Another segment of civil aircraft is general aviation aircraft.
General aviation aircraft range from the small two-seaters designed for leisure use to corporate jets designed
for business transport. Civil helicopters, one of the smallest segments of civil aircraft, are commonly used
by police departments, emergency medical services, and businesses such as oil and mining companies that need
to transport people to remote worksites.
Military aircraft and helicopters are purchased by governments to meet national defense needs, such as delivering
weapons to military targets and transporting troops and equipment around the globe. Some of these aircraft are
specifically designed to deliver a powerful array of ordnance to military targets with tremendous maneuverability
and low detectability. Aircraft engine manufacturers, not the aircraft manufacturers, produce the engines used in
civil and military aircraft. These manufacturers design and build engines according to the aircraft design and
performance specifications of the aircraft manufacturers. Aircraft manufacturers may use engines designed by different
companies on the same type of aircraft.
Firms producing guided missiles and missile propulsion units sell primarily to military and government organizations.
Although missiles are viewed predominantly as offensive weapons, improved guidance systems have led to their
increased use as defensive systems. This part of the industry also produces space vehicles and the rockets for
launching them into space. Consumers of spacecraft include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),
the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), telecommunications companies, television networks, and news organizations.
Firms producing space satellites are discussed with the computer and electronic product manufacturing industry in this
publication because satellites are primarily electronic products.
In 2002, about 2,800 establishments made up the aerospace industry. In the aerospace parts industry, most establishments
were subcontractors that manufacture parts and employ fewer than 100 workers. Nevertheless, 64 percent of the jobs in
aerospace manufacturing were in large establishments that employed 1,000 or more workers.
The Federal Government traditionally has been the aerospace industryís biggest customer. The vast majority of
Government contracts to purchase aerospace equipment are awarded by DOD. NASA also is a major purchaser of the
industryís products and services, mainly for space vehicles and launch services.
The aerospace industry is dominated by a few large firms that contract to produce aircraft with Government and
private businesses, usually airline and cargo transportation companies. These large firms, in turn, subcontract
with smaller firms to produce specific systems and parts for their vehicles. Government purchases are largely
related to defense. Typically, DOD announces its need for military aircraft or missile systems, specifying a
multitude of requirements. Large firms specializing in defense products subsequently submit bids, detailing
proposed technical solutions and designs, along with cost estimates, hoping to win the contract. Firms may also
research and develop materials, electronics, and components relating to their bid, often at their own expense, in
order to enhance their chance of winning the contract. Following a negotiation phase, a manufacturer is selected
and a prototype vehicle is developed and built, and then tested and evaluated. If approved by DOD, the program
enters production. This process usually takes many years.
Commercial airlines and private businesses typically identify their needs for a particular model of new
aircraft based on a number of factors, including the routes they fly. After specifying requirements such
as range, size, cargo capacity, type of engine, and seating arrangements, the airlines invite manufacturers
of civil aircraft and aircraft engines to submit bids. Selection ultimately is based on a manufacturerís
ability to deliver reliable aircraft that best fit the purchaserís stated market needs at the lowest cost
and at favorable financing terms.
The way in which commercial and military aircraft are designed, developed, and produced is undergoing
significant change in response to the need to cut costs and deliver products more quickly. Firms producing
commercial aircraft have reduced development time drastically through computer-aided design (CAD), which
allows firms to design an entire aircraft, including the individual parts, solely by computer. The drawings
of these parts can be sent electronically to subcontractors who use them to program their machinery. Product
development teams are increasingly being used through every phase of development, bringing customers, engineers,
and production workers together to make decisions concerning the aircraft. Additionally, the military has
changed its design philosophy, using available commercially available, off-the-shelf technology when appropriate,
rather than developing new customized components.
The average aerospace products and parts production employee worked 42.3 hours a week in 2002, compared with
40.5 hours a week throughout manufacturing and 33.9 hours a week across all industries.
Working conditions in aerospace manufacturing facilities vary. Many new plants, in contrast to older facilities,
are spacious, well lit, and modern. Specific work environments usually depend on the occupation and age of the
production line. Engineers, scientists, and technicians frequently work in office settings or laboratories,
although production engineers may spend much of their time with production workers on the factory floor.
Production workers, such as welders and other assemblers, may have to cope with high noise levels. Oil, grease,
and grime often are present, and some workers may face exposure to volatile organic compounds found in solvents,
paints, and coatings. Heavy lifting is required for many production jobs.
Cases of work-related injury and illness in the aircraft and parts sector were 5.7 per 100 full-time workers in
2001, higher than the 1.6 cases per 100 workers in the guided missiles sector. In comparison, cases of work-related
injury and illness throughout the private sector averaged 5.3 per 100 workers.
Aerospace manufacturing provided 468,000 wage and salary jobs in 2002. The largest numbers of aerospace jobs
were in Washington and California, although many also were located in Kansas, Texas, Connecticut, and Arizona.
Under the new North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), workers in research and development
(R&D) establishments that are not part of a manufacturing facility are included in a separate industryóresearch
and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences. However, due to the importance of R&D work
to the aerospace manufacturing industry, aerospace-related R&D is discussed here even though a large proportion
of aerospace-related R&D workers are not included in the employment data.
OCCUPATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY
The design and manufacture of the technologically sophisticated products of the aerospace industry require the
input and skills of various workers. Skilled production, professional and related, and managerial jobs make up
the bulk of employment. Those employed in managerial and administrative support occupations manage the design
process and factory operations, coordinate the hundreds of thousands of parts that are assembled into an aircraft,
and ensure compliance with Federal recordkeeping regulations. The aerospace industry has a larger proportion of
workers with education beyond high school than the average for all industries.
The aerospace industry is on the leading edge of technology and constantly is striving to create new products
and improve existing ones. The industry invests a great amount of time and money in research and development of
aerospace products, and much of the work is performed by professional and related workers, who made up about 31
percent of the aerospace workforce in 2002. In addition, thousands more aerospace-related professionals work in
research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences industry. A bachelorís degree in a
specialized field, such as engineering, is required for many of these jobs; a masterís or doctoral degree is
preferred for a few. Two years of technical training after high school is favored for many technician occupations.
Professionals and technicians develop new designs and make improvements to existing designs.
Aerospace engineers are integral members of the teams that research, design, test, and produce aerospace vehicles. Some
specialize in areas such as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, and instrumentation and
communication. Electrical and electronics, industrial, and
mechanical engineers also contribute to the research for and development
and production of aerospace products. For example, mechanical engineers help design
mechanical components and develop the specific tools and machines needed to produce aircraft, missile, and space
vehicle parts, or they may design jet and rocket engines. Engineering technicians
assist engineers, both in the research and development laboratory, and on the manufacturing floor. They may help build prototype versions of
newly designed products, run tests and experiments, and perform a variety of other technical tasks. One of the
earliest users of CAD, the aerospace industry continues to use the latest computer technology.
Computer scientists and systems analysts and database administrators;
computer software engineers; computer programmers; and computer
support specialists and systems administrators are responsible for the design, testing, evaluation, and setup of
computer systems that are used throughout the industry for design and manufacturing purposes.
Management, business, and financial occupations accounted for 16 percent of industry employment in 2002. Many
advance to these jobs from professional occupations. Many managers in the aerospace industry have a technical
or engineering background, and supervise teams of engineers in activities such as testing and research and
development. Industrial production managers oversee all workers and
lower-level managers in a factory. They
also coordinate all activities related to production. In addition to technical and production managers,
financial managers; purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents;
cost estimators; and accountants and
auditors are needed to negotiate with customers and subcontractors and to track costs.
Of all aerospace workers, 40 percent are employed in production; installation, maintenance, and repair; and
transportation and material moving occupations. Many of these jobs are not specific to aerospace and can be
found in other manufacturing industries. Many production jobs are open to persons with only a high school
education; however, special vocational training after high school is preferred for some of the more highly
Aircraft structure, surfaces, rigging, and systems assemblers
usually specialize in one assembly task;
hundreds of different assemblers may work at various times on producing a single aircraft. Assemblers may
put together parts of airplanes, such as wings or landing gear, or install parts and equipment into the
airplane itself. Those involved in assembling aircraft or systems must be skilled in reading and interpreting
engineering specifications and instructions.
Machinists make parts that are needed in numbers too small to
be mass produced. They follow blueprints and
specifications and are highly skilled with machine tools and metalworking.
Tool and die makers are responsible
for constructing precision tools and metal forms, called dies, which are used to shape metal. Increasingly,
as individual components are designed electronically, these highly skilled workers must be able to read electronic
blueprints and setup and operate computer-controlled machines.
Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers perform numerous
quality control and safety checks on
aerospace parts throughout the production cycle. Their work is vital to ensure the safety of the aircraft.
The remaining jobs in the industry are in office and administrative support, service, and sales occupations.
Most of these jobs can be entered without education beyond high school. Workers in office and administrative
support occupations help coordinate the flow of materials to the worksite, draw up orders for supplies, keep
records, and help with all of the other paperwork associated with keeping a business functioning. Those in
service occupations are employed mostly as guards and janitors and other cleaning and maintenance workers.
Sales workers are mostly wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives and sales workers supervisors.
TRAINING AND ADVANCEMENT
Because employers need well-informed, knowledgeable employees who can keep up with the rapid technological
advancements in aerospace manufacturing, the industry provides substantial support for the education and training
of its workers. Firms provide on-site, job-related training to upgrade the skills of technicians, production
workers, and engineers. Classes teaching computer skills and blueprint reading are common. Some firms reimburse
employees for educational expenses at colleges and universities, emphasizing 4-year degrees and postgraduate studies.
Professionals, such as engineers and scientists, require a bachelorís degree in a specialized field. For some jobs,
particularly in research and development, a masterís or doctoral degree may be preferred.
Production workers may enter the aerospace industry with minimal skills. Mechanical aptitude and good hand-eye
coordination usually are necessary. A high school diploma or equivalent is required, and some vocational training
in electronics or mechanics also is favored.
Unskilled production workers typically start by being shown how to perform a simple assembly task. Through experience,
on-the-job instruction provided by other workers, and brief, formal training sessions, they expand their skills. Their
pay increases as they advance into more highly skilled or responsible jobs. For example, machinists may take additional
training to become numerical tool and process control programmers or tool and die makers. Inspectors usually are promoted
from assembly, machine operation, and mechanical occupations.
Due to the reliance on computers and computer-operated equipment, classes in computer skills are common. With training,
production workers may be able to advance to supervisory or technician jobs.
To enter some of the more highly skilled production occupations, workers must go through a formal apprenticeship.
Machinists and electricians complete apprenticeships that can last up to 4 years. Apprenticeships usually include
classroom instruction and shop training.
Entry-level positions for technicians usually require a degree from a technical school or junior college.
Companies sometimes retrain technicians to upgrade their skills or to teach different specialties. They are
taught traditional as well as new production technology skills, such as computer-aided design and manufacturing
and statistical process control methods.
Production workers in the aerospace industry earn higher pay than the average for all industries. Weekly earnings
for production workers averaged $934 in aerospace product parts manufacturing in 2002, compared with $619 in all
manufacturing and $506 in all private industry. Above-average earnings reflect, in part, the high levels of skill
required by the industry and the need to motivate workers to concentrate on maintaining high quality standards in
their work. Non-production workers, such as engineering managers, engineers, and computer specialists, generally
command higher pay due to their advanced education and training.
In 2002, 22 percent of all workers in the aerospace industry were union members or covered by union contracts,
compared with about 15 percent of all workers throughout private industry. Some of the major aerospace unions
include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the United Automobile, Aerospace, and
Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA);
and the International Union of Allied Industrial Workers of America.
Employment in the aerospace products and parts manufacturing industry is expected to decrease by 18 percent
over the 2002-2012 period, compared with the 16-percent growth projected for all industries combined. Employment
in the aerospace industry has declined in the past few years due to a drastic reduction in commercial transport
aircraft orders, and relatively little increase in orders is expected over the projection period. This decline
in orders was caused by the reduction in air travel that resulted from the terrorist attacks on the United States,
as well as severe financial problems many of the Nationís airlines have experienced. In addition, the industry
will continue to experience strong foreign competition in the commercial transport market.
The outlook for the military aircraft and missiles portion of the industry is better. Growing concern for the
Nationís security has increased the need for military aircraft and military aerospace equipment as well as for
military aerospace personnel. Although new employment opportunities in the defense-related sector of the aerospace
industry may not reach previous levels, the increased need for aerospace defense will boost the demand for
employment within this sector.
Due to past reductions in defense expenditures and competition in the commercial aircraft sector, there have
been and may continue to be mergers within the industry that sometimes result in layoffs. Even though the number
of large firms performing final assembly of aircraft has been reduced, hundreds of smaller manufacturers and
subcontractors will remain in this industry.
Despite an expected decline in employment of professional workers in the industry, there still may be a
significant number of openings in the industry due to replacement needs, especially for engineers. Many
engineers who entered the industry in the 1960s are approaching retirement. Overall, professionals in the
aerospace manufacturing industry typically enjoy more employment stability than do other workers. During
slowdowns in production, companies prefer to keep technical teams intact to continue research and development
activities, in anticipation of new business. Production workers, on the other hand, are particularly vulnerable
to layoffs during downturns in the economy, when aircraft orders decline.
Industry data is republished with permission by the Bureau of Labor Statistics