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A Career in Aviation

Aviation is a truly global sector, offering a variety of exciting and rewarding career prospects across a wide range of activities. Currently around 200,000 people work at airports or for airlines in the UK. 

The UK is a world leader in this sector, with Heathrow the busiest airport in the UK and the third busiest in the world.  Whether for business travel, leisure, or moving freight around the world, airlines and airports are a key component of 21st century activity. 

The work

Opportunities fall into three main areas of activity – airports, airlines and third-party work, for example, freight handling.  Of the 200,000 people who work at airports about 60% are employed by airlines or their handling agents, 11% by the airport operator, 9% in concessions such as ships and restaurant, 6% by control agencies like the UK Border Agency, and 5% by freight and cargo handlers.  Typical jobs roles fall into the following categories:

Airside operations, involving the handling of aircraft, engineering maintenance and baggage, both at the operating level and in management

Ground transportation, motor transport operations and vehicle maintenance

Cabin services (specific to airlines) and ground handling passenger services

Procurement, IT services, marketing and cargo management and an increasing emphasis on supply chain management

Airports also require safety and security functions, terminal baggage systems, fire services as well as airfield operations like stand allocation and marshalling.  In addition, airports have a wide range of retail operations, including catering, car parking and shops, which are usually operated by concessions.

There are many third party functions to support of airline activities at airports.  For example, at Heathrow there are 440 companies on the airport site undertaking a variety of activities such as cargo handling and freight forwarding, courier traffic, mail trans-shipment, engineering and transport services, and a range of supply chain and distribution activities.  The same range of services will be available at most UK airports.

The skills

The following general skills will normally be required:
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Good communication – written and verbal
  • Team working
  • IT literacy
  • Problem-solving and thinking on your feet
  • Safety conscious
  • Aviation is a 24/7 operation so flexibility and an ability to work shifts is essential
  • Adaptability and a quick learner
  • An aptitude for languages can also be an advantage

Entry requirements

For certain types of careers, A levels/Highers, diploma or a degree is required but that is by no means the only entry route. 

There are also apprenticeship opportunities in aviation-related occupations, so it is worth visiting the Apprenticeship websites to see what is available (there are separate sites for each of the four nations):

There are graduate trainee opportunities with airline, airports and aerospace industry.  Some employers will be looking to recruit those with specialist logistics and transport-related degrees but other subjects are also in demand.  Company training programmes usually last around two years and help employees to build their knowledge of the organisation. Graduate roles are usually advertised either directly via the company websites and/or via graduate recruitment websites.

Salary and career development

It is a diverse sector, with a wide range of jobs, and spread geographically over the whole of the UK, so it is difficult to give salary guidelines or information about typical development pathways but it is clear that the sector offers plenty of opportunities for progression.


There are many employers in the sector:

  • Airlines – operations, ground and cabin crew

  • Airports

  • Freight companies

  • Baggage and cargo handling

  • Airport concessions – retail, catering and parking

  • Aeroplane manufacturing


There are a number of relevant professional bodies and trade associations:

  • The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport is the leading professional association for those involved in all aspects of logistics and transport.
  • Airport Operators Association is trade association representing the interests of UK airports.
  • British Airport Transport Association - the trade association for UK-registered airlines – the site includes useful data and links to other related organisations
  • British Airport Services and Equipment Association
  • Royal Aeronautical Society with a link to a dedicated careers website
  • an international trade body representing 240 airlines – the site also includes intern opportunities on the careers pages.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority is the UK's specialist aviation regulator – the site includes information about job and training opportunities.

There are a number of sources for specific information about working in the sector:

Registered Office:

Earlstrees Court, Earlstrees Road, Corby
Northants, NN17 4AX
Main Switchboard: 01536 740100

Company Registration Number: 2629347 
(A Company Limited by Guarantee)
Charity Registration Number: 1004963

© The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport