Although pilots and flight attendants are the most visible occupations in this industry, almost 70 percent of all employees in air transportation work on the ground in what are called ground occupations. Two of the largest ground occupations are aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians and reservation and transportation ticket agents and travel clerks.
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and service technicians service, inspect, and repair planes. They may work on several different types of aircraft, such as jet transports, small propeller-driven airplanes, or helicopters. Many specialize working on either the airframe (the body of the aircraft), the powerplant (the engines), or avionics (the parts of an aircraft that depend on electronics, such as navigation and communication equipment). In small, independent repair shops, mechanics and technicians usually inspect and repair many different types of aircraft.
Some mechanics and technicians specialize in scheduled maintenance required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Following a schedule based on the number of hours flown, calendar days, cycles of operation, or a combination of these factors, mechanics inspect the engines, landing gear, instruments, and other parts of aircraft and perform necessary maintenance and repairs.
A reservation and transportation ticket agent is most often the first employee passengers meet after entering the airport. Ticket agents work at airport ticket counters and boarding gates and use computers to provide customer service to incoming passengers. They can make and confirm reservations, sell tickets, and issue boarding passes. They also may work in call centers, answering phone inquiries about flight schedules and fares, verifying reservations, issuing tickets, and handling payments. Customer service representatives assist passengers, check tickets when passengers board or disembark from an airplane, and check luggage at the reception area and ensure that it is placed on the proper carrier. They assist elderly or handicapped persons and unaccompanied children in claiming personal belongings and baggage, and in getting on and off the plane. They also may provide assistance to passengers who become ill or injured.
Other ground occupations include airplane cargo and freight agents, who take orders from shippers and arrange for transportation of their goods. Baggage handlers, classified under laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand are responsible for loading and unloading passengers’ baggage. They stack baggage on specified carts or conveyors to see that it gets to the proper destination and also return baggage to passengers at airline terminals. Aircraft cleaners clean aircraft interiors after each flight.
Flight crewmembers make up 31 percent of air transportation employment, and include pilots and flight attendants.
Aircraft pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers are highly trained professionals who fly and navigate jet and turboprop airplanes. Generally, the most experienced pilot, or captain, is in command and supervises all other crewmembers. The pilot and copilot split flying and other duties such as communicating with air traffic controllers and monitoring the instruments. Some aircraft have a third pilot in the cockpit-the flight engineer or second officer-who assists the other pilots by monitoring and operating many of the instruments and systems and watching for other aircraft. Most newer aircraft are designed to be flown without a flight engineer. Small aircraft and helicopters that transport passengers and cargo and perform activities such as crop dusting, monitoring traffic, firefighting, and rescue missions are flown and navigated by commercial pilots.
Airline flights must have one or more flight attendants on board, depending on the number of passengers. Their most important function is assisting passengers in the event of an emergency. This may range from reassuring passengers during occasional encounters with strong turbulence to opening emergency exits and inflating escape chutes. More routinely, flight attendants instruct passengers in the use of safety and emergency equipment. Once in the air, they serve meals and snacks, answer questions about the flight, distribute magazines and pillows, and help to care for small children and elderly and disabled persons. They also may administer first aid to passengers who become ill.
The airline industry also relies on many management, professional, and administrative support workers to keep operations running smoothly.